We’re back from Europe! You may have read about our trip, a few people wrote about it. Michelle wore Thakoon, J.Crew, Junya Watanabe, Jason Wu, Alaia, Michael Kors, and Isabel Toledo. Oscar de la Renta whined not being included. Busy Bee Cathy Horyn wrote a story about each outfit in the New York Times, which also provided a painstakingly detailed slide show. Is Horyn hoping to move to DC, like Robin Givhan? Also, since when is an argyle sweater “kooky”?
What really struck us about the press coverage of the trip was the way each event was treated as some sort of test for Michelle. Writers seemed obsessed with the many ways she might screw things up. The LA Times wondered if she would “upstage” her husband and expressed concern that we might appear. Gioia Diliberto at the Huffington Post was concerned about what she would wear to meet with the Queen. The Daily News reassured readers that she had studied royal protocols. The implication was that America ought to be biting its nails and rooting for Ms. Obama to not send us into World War III or something.
We wonder about the source of this preoccupation. We don’t recall a lot of handwringing about how Laura Bush was going to behave overseas, or Nancy Reagan, or even Hillary Clinton for that matter. Michelle Obama is a gracious, well spoken woman who has been in a high profile position for years now without a major gaffe. She’s not Joe Biden. It’s striking that so many writers chose to frame their coverage of the trip as though Michelle is an unknown, volatile person who could potentially embarass America somehow.
So why was Michelle at the center of this anxiety? What is it about her that is different from other First Ladies that might account for it? What could it be? We may have biceps for brains, but we have a pretty good idea, and it’s not because she is taller than Laura Bush.
Of course, Michelle performed perfectly, charming everyone with that blend of formality and accessibility that the Obamas do so well. Her one supposed faux pas, when we touched Her Royal Highness, was a warm response to the Queen’s overture and was recieved as such. And you know what? We are glad we did it! The Queen is a nice lady and we’ll touch her again if it’s appropriate. It’s not like we gave anyone an uninvited massage or anything.
Luckily, Triggerfinger and Li’l Rambler are no longer in office.
We all know that no reporting is neutral. It inevitably reveals the biases and frameworks of the writer, his or her editors, and the publication. But the hidden assumption that Michelle might screw up is notable, not only because it reveals the differing expectations journalists have about her, but because then when she doesn’t screw up, that is seen as a big deal as well. You could practically hear the sighs of relief when the trip was deemed a success. Phew!
We love Michelle, and we love it when others love her, but sometimes we worry that throught this dynamic she is going to begin to be seen as magical. The magical African-American First Lady who doesn’t offend people! We can send her overseas, and nothing bad happens! What will she do next? And that is just as offensive as considering her an underdog. She is a professional woman who is good at her job. Are we going to have to strongarm people into letting her do it?