On Friday, January 20, 2017, we will lose one of the best First Ladies I have been privileged to watch. She has been an outstanding example of how to balance many different roles and be the very best at all of them. The following is a love letter to Michelle Obama written by Rashida Jones. It says it all.
By Rashida Jones:
The first time I met Michelle Obama was at the White House as part of a mentoring initiative, for which the first lady had brought together a dynamic group of women to speak to urban teenage girls about their career goals. Olympians, actresses, producers, writers, an astronaut and an Air Force general gathered in the West Wing to greet Michelle before we headed out to various local schools. She was warm, gracious and charming. She thanked us for coming, hugged everybody and made us all feel like her friends. As first lady, she has ticked all the boxes: loving wife, protective mother, health and fitness advocate, garden enthusiast and, yes, style icon. These accomplishments have left traditionalists feeling satisfied.
But, as is always the way, her reputation as the perfect hostess invited criticism from progressives. Enter Michelle Obama, outspoken activist, a woman who isn’t afraid to remind us she is a proud African-American woman, which is, in itself, revolutionary. A former lawyer who speaks out on behalf of gay rights and gun control, she delivered an unforgettable speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier this year, shining a clear, bright light on our country’s shameful history. Suddenly, the progressives were pleased and the traditionalists were confused. The media wants to pin her down — they’ve been trying since Barack Obama took office in 2009. But you simply can’t.
Michelle Obama embodies the modern, American woman, and I don’t mean that in any platitudinous or vague way. Rarely can someone express their many identities at the same time while seeming authentic. My female friends and I often talk about feeling like we’re “too much.” We’re complicated; we want to be so many things. I want to be a boss and also be vulnerable. I want to be outspoken and respected, but also sexy and beautiful.
All women struggle to reconcile the different people that we are at all times, to merge our conflicting desires, to represent ourselves honestly and feel good about the inherent contradictions. But Michelle manages to do this with poise, regardless of the scrutiny. That, to me, is the best thing for feminism. Her individual choices force us to accept that being a woman isn’t just one thing. Or two things. Or three things. The position of first lady is, unfortunately, symbolic, and that makes it fair game for media analysis ad nauseam. But no think piece can fully encompass a real woman.
If feminism’s goal is equal opportunity and choice, Michelle makes me feel like every choice is available. You can go to Princeton and Harvard, you can rap with Missy Elliott, you can be a mother and a lawyer and a powerful orator. You can champion the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, while also caring about fashion. You can dance with Ellen and also fearlessly remind people, on live television, of the reality of your position: “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves. And I watch my daughters, two beautiful, intelligent, black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn.” You can be your husband’s partner and supporter, and also use your cultural and political capital to campaign for Hillary Clinton, unflinchingly standing up to her “locker room talk”-ing bully of an opponent with the battle cry “enough is enough!” — eloquently putting into words what a lot of people, myself included, had been feeling.
Michelle Obama will have her own legacy, separate from her husband’s. And it will be that she was the first first lady to show women that they don’t have to choose. That it’s okay to be everything.
MICHELLE OBAMA YOU ROCK AND WILL BE MISSED!
Rashida Jones is a writer, actress and producer.
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