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First ladies can do more than bake cookies

Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012

Updated: Sunday, October 7, 2012 22:10

Ann Romney’s three-quarter length blazers and knee-length, color-coordinated skirts along with Michelle Obama’s right to bear toned, muscled arms have sent blogosphere niches up in arms as they dissect the clothing choices of each at political appearances - with more ferocity than TLC’s “What Not to Wear” hosts Stacy and Clinton.

Though many say former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney won the debate last week, it was Michelle Obama who took the cake in a bake-off against Ann Romney, where her recipe for White and Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies beat  Romney’s M&M Cookies hands down. This was much to the chagrin of mommy bloggers, who claimed Obama’s recipes were not in accordance to her own preaching of healthy eating.

However, in the midst of an election in which 12.5 million Americans are without jobs, economic issues are at the forefront, and important women’s issues, such as equal pay and access to healthcare, are at a pinnacle, why is the media talking about cookies?
Indeed, first ladies of America have always held an important, yet elusive role in election politics. From Martha Washington to Jackie Onassis, the first lady has been reflective of the kind of president her spouse has been.

But as the concept of the American woman has evolved from hostess to one that can stand on par with males in a presidential election, as former-first-lady-turned-Senator-turned-Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton has proved, the concept of the qualifications for first lady remain grounded in the early 1700s — by today’s standards, a highly sexist concept to hang onto.

When Secretary Clinton ran in the presidential primaries in 2008, no one would have thought to put an apron around former President Bill Clinton’s neck and expect him to talk about cookies and cupcakes.

While the role of the first lady symbolizes much of the role of the ideal American wife and mother, the first lady is also one of the highest-powered women in the country, by little volition of her own.

But in the 21st century, as family structures have evolved and women have risen to new levels of autonomy in the workforce and at home, the issues facing women are not simply cookie recipes and dress choices.

From promoting childhood literacy to combating childhood obesity, first ladies serve as unofficial parts of the president’s cabinet, providing advice and counsel as well as promoting issues important to them — whether they are women’s issues or human issues.  
But first ladies should serve an some role in championing women’s issues, including reproductive rights, workforce equality and health care access. As a representative of the American woman, the first lady is beneficial in ensuring women are not swept under the rug and that these, among other issues, remain at the forefront of an equally represented dialogue.

So, before another story emerges on whether or not Michelle Obama’s lipstick shade was a better match with the hem of her dress than Ann Romney’s, it would be refreshing to hear stories of what each woman thinks of the state of the nation and what perspective she hopes to bring to the table — and not the dining table.

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