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Michelle Obama Is a Feminist, Not a "Feminist's Nightmare"

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

An easy way for a new publication to get attention and clicks is to troll the feminist blogosphere. Today, Politico Magazine brings the Internet a story by Michelle Cottle titled "Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama became a feminist nightmare." The premise, more or less, is that the only way way to be a true feminist/please true feminists is to work on Very Serious Policy. So you can't be a feminist outside of think tanks, or outside of D.C, really. Nor can you dress well. Cottle subtly jabs at Obama's "fashionably shod" feet, and quotes a blogger who says "Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated First Ladies in history?” Nor can you care about being a mom, per the definition of feminism set forth by this article. 

But now, Michelle Obama has found an issue that's worthy. She will try to close the higher-education gap among minority and low-income Americans. Cottle:

Here, finally, was an issue worthy of the Ivy-educated, blue-chip law firm-trained first lady, a departure from the safely, soothingly domestic causes she had previously embraced. Gardening? Tending wounded soldiers? Reading to children? “She essentially became the English lady of the manor, Tory Party, circa 1830s,” feminist Linda Hirshman says.

It turns out that, mostly, Linda Hirshman is the one disappointed with Michelle Obama, not feminists more generally. Cottle anticipated this, writing somewhat disdainfully: "Sure, some might prefer a more in-your-face, running-with-the-big-dogs model, aspiring to be the next Hillary Clinton or Sheryl Sandberg, but others see the movement as having moved on to be all about personal fulfillment and choices."

And it turns out, just about every mention of Cottle's article on Twitter is displeased with its thesis. 

But let's set aside for a moment the fairly offensive notion that in order to be feminists, women must be interested in a certain set of issues and live by a definition of "seriousness" that hews to the one white men created. (Why aren't you wearing a tie with your power suit, huh? Answer me that, Michelle!) What Cottle doesn't note is that while Michelle Obama is busy in public with a set of causes that have made her much beloved by the American people, across the political spectrum, behind the scenes, she is quite involved in policy, and functions as the president's liberal conscience. She was heavily involved with pushing the health care bill. If that isn't a serious amount of power, on a serious topic, I don't know what is.