Is first lady the hardest job in the world?


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff Mom Never Told You from www.HowStuffWorks.com.

Molly: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. This is Molly.

Cristen: And I'm Cristen.

Molly: And today Cristen and I are going to start off with a shout out to one of our sister How Stuff Works podcasts, the ever popular Stuff You Missed in History Class.

Cristen: Starring Candace and Jane.

Molly: True, and they did a podcast that was really interesting called Do Political Parties Influence the First Lady's Duties? They sort of made a generalization that Democratic first ladies are more political partners with their Presidential spouse, whereas Republican first ladies, in general, are more like marriage partners, they have more of a traditional role.

Cristen: Well that was recorded during the election, before we knew who our first lady was going to be, and now that Michelle Obama is our official First Lady, Molly and I thought that we would take a look at how that has stood up so far. We're almost to the 100 day mark of President Obama's term, and so we'd thought we would look at the duties of the First Lady, and how Michelle Obama has taken that on.

Molly: Right because you can interpret the First Lady's duties any way you want. The roles are not defined.

Cristen: Right. They really started out as just sort of a social hostess. They did White House redecoration, sort of like an overseer of the house, very traditional feminine household roles.

Molly: That's part of what Candace and Jane covered. It's really interesting. You should listen to that podcast. But before she became First Lady, Michelle Obama was pretty adamant that she would be one of the more traditional First Ladies. Her role was basically going to be mom and chief. She was going to take of Malia and Sasha, and you know, she's done that to some extent, but she's done a whole lot more in the past few months as well.

Cristen: Right, and Molly, it's interesting you bring up the mom and chief part. According to the New York Times, Mrs. Obama has the highest favorability rate of any incoming First Lady since 1980, and they said that her approval rating really soared after she sort of shifted the focus of her potential First Lady roles to that of wife and mother, first and foremost, which I thought was kind of interesting.

Molly: Yeah, it's sort of a statement on the fact that we do kind of want a homemaker and chief. During elections, we always want to know what the potential First Lady's cookie recipe is, what dishes they make for their husband, despite the fact that once they get into the White House they don't do any cooking at all.

Cristen: Right, and Michelle Obama comes into the White House with a pretty impressive list of credentials. She was educated at Harvard Law School. She was the President of Community and External Affairs for the University of Chicago Medical Center. I mean, this woman was very busy, and had a very impressive career, and now that's sort of - you know, she kind of left it behind a little bit to become First Lady.

Molly: Right, it sort of seemed like that's something she had to make a very clear statement that she was doing that during the election for people to almost accept her. While she sort of still maintained that role in the White House, she's doing a lot more. She started this garden in the White House lawn to promote healthy eating. She's been busy visiting military families. She's been visiting school children, so all of the people who were abuzz about the First Lady's role are just watching her, trying to figure out how all of these various activities are gonna come together to form a platform because as Candace and Jane were saying, these Democratic first ladies are more likely to have kind of this policy platform that they promote.

Cristen: Yeah, and at the same time, balanced with that policy platform, I think one of the most challenging aspects of being First Lady is that you have to do all of these things in the public sphere, supporting the military families, middle class women, etc. But Michelle Obama is also on the cover of Vogue and her every sartorial choice is being documented, and I have to say I hate to have to bring it up again, but we are nationally obsessed with her arms. Molly: Her arms are beautiful. Cristen: Yeah, I mean they're toned, yeah, that's awesome, but. Molly: But you're right, there is all this constant speculation about whether she's pregnant. I mean, she's very much a tabloid figure now, which has led Cristen and I to sort of ponder the quadran gular space syndrome, is the First Lady the Hardest Job in the World? In addition to all of these people watching your every personal choice, you know, evaluating your marriage, looking at your arms, you are also sort of required now in this modern age to have this policy platform. Cristen: Right, and I would say that even more than the President, we look to the First Lady as the barometer for the health of the First Family and how that kind of reflects on the entire national tone because right know, things are really difficult with the economy, and we have these ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think that one of Michelle Obama's unspoken duties is to really keep the First Family healthy, something positive for the nation to be able to look to, and kind of get us through this storm.Molly: So with the situation in the world in combination with the fact that she's one of the most recent first ladies to deal with young children in the White House, she's got a pretty tricky role to navigate, which is why people are obsessed with her every move, but she's really coming in as part of a generation of first ladies. There was a Political Science Professor named Robert Watson who defined different generations of first ladies, and whether each was sort of activist, the ones that were more quiet, and how from Martha Washington on, we've had to deal with this evolution of a role, since no one really knows what it means.Cristen: Right, the First Lady has really come to be more of the President's partner rather than just his at home spouse who hosts dignitaries, sets up social events and decorates for Christmas. Molly: Right, so Michelle Obama's First Lady generation really starts back with Betty Ford, who was one of the most politically active First Ladies since Eleanor Roosevelt, who was sort of kind of a stick out figure because there was no one like her at that time. But in terms of modern women this movement that Michelle Obama belongs to really starts with Betty Ford, who was a pretty cool lady.Cristen: Right, among the things that she was really outspoken about were feminist platforms of the times, specifically the Equal Rights Amendment that she was strongly for.Molly: And she made breast cancer a really big issue as well, with her own fight against the disease.Cristen: Right, and then after her we had Roslyn Carter who really emphasized performing arts, support for the mental health community, and the elderly, and she is still active today with the Carter Center and their global outreach.Molly: Right, and so Roslyn Carter was actually the first First Lady to have a budget. When Jimmy Carter was in office, he passed a Bill, 95570, which was when the First Lady was given a budget and a staff. Prior to that, first ladies might have brought in friends frankly to host their events basically.Cristen: Right, and I think it was Jackie Kennedy who brought in the first Press Secretary.Molly: Right, and she had to ask permission to do so.Cristen: Yeah, but now Michelle Obama has the liberty to really create whatever kind of support staff that she wants and needs, and I have a feeling that since she has a pretty heavy load like we've been talking about, it's probably pretty extensive stuff.Molly: Right.Cristen: And having a support staff is important for the First Lady because she has really three main overarching duties, and that would be social affairs, you know, which is the traditional things of inviting diplomats, which is a very important part of politics, and then press relations and policy issues. With policy issues, the First Lady has such a unique sphere of influence because she is with the President in the quiet times, when he is outside of the public eye, and can really maybe influence whatever legislation or policies he is working on.Molly: Right, and I think that's what makes people nervous because we don't elect the First Lady. People don't really look at that when they're looking to elect a President. And often we're told that families are off limits during elections, but then all of a sudden when they're in office, they seem to have all of this power. You think about Hilary versus Laura, Hilary Clinton versus Laura Bush, and the very different roles they took on as First Lady.Cristen: Right. Hilary Clinton made waves when Bill Clinton appointed her to head up a task force on Health Care Reform, and as we know now, it didn't really pan out so well, and she sort of had to pull back a little bit from that public space, and maybe take on more of the traditional First Lady duties. People were really upset that she wasn't immediately embracing. Molly: Right, it's very much damned if you do, damned if you don't situation because Hilary was very much, I'm gonna promote an aggressive policy that advances an issue that people care passionately about, whereas then we had a change of office and Laura Bush came into office, she had the platform of literacy, but you know, I think it's fair to say that a lot of people may not even have known that until they read the extensive White House bio to see all the things she did with that.

Cristen: Well, so far we're not too far into the Obama Administration, but it seems like Michelle is doing a really great job with kind of balancing the public policy zeal of Hilary Clinton and the more homemaker type of image that Laura Bush projected, but I have to wonder, Molly, how the idea of the President's spouse would change if we had a female President?

Molly: Ooh.Cristen: What if we had a First Gentleman, or First Dude as Todd Palin likes to call himself.Molly: Right, and I guess those gubernatorial relationships provide a sort of a model of how that would go, but I know that you're reading some interesting stuff about Germany where they do have a -Cristen: First man. Molly: What do they call him, do you know?Cristen: I don't know what the official name for it is, but Angela Merkel is the first female Chancellor of Germany, and the interesting thing about her husband is that he hasn't really changed his life that much. He is a scientist, and if you want to interview him, it's got to be about his career, and he doesn't really do that many public appearances. He's very withdrawn from the public role as the Chancellor's husband, so I wonder how the same thing would fly in the United States because we love gossip. We would still want to know what the First Spouse would be up to.Molly: Exactly, he wore the pants.Cristen: Exactly, but he might have a little more leeway to really pursue his own interests, and kind of carry on his career. Molly: Especially the closest we've had to that situation has been Hilary and Bill Clinton, whereas we all sort of knew who Bill Clinton was. He would have come into the Oval Office with a persona already established in the public eye.Cristen: Exactly, and he could probably carry on with his foundation work, and all of that, and it probably wouldn't drastically change our perception of the first couple.

Molly: Right, and so it is an interesting thing to ponder, especially since I feel that the things we 've talked about a homemaker role in addition to a policy role, we have very specific ideas about how the woman should fall into this role, and I don't know if we would apply those same homemaking social Gala function chief role.Cristen: Yeah, I really cannot imagine Bill Clinton getting into hosting social luncheon.Molly: Oh, see I could actually. Cristen: Well, I mean he would kind of farm out the organizational duties, but maybe, I don't know, maybe I just don't know old Bill well enough to say, but going back to the question of is the First Lady the hardest job in the world.Molly: Probably not.Cristen: Okay, probably not. It's kind of an exaggeration? But it's such an extreme balance.Molly: Right, it's sort of every woman's societal role all wrapped up into one.Cristen: Right, and no matter what she does, whether she's too active, or not active enough, at some point someone is gonna have a complaint about it, so. Molly: Yeah, there's no way to succeed in this job I think. Cristen: But I think at the end of the day, we can all agree on the fact that Michelle has banging arms. Molly: Those arms are awesome. Cristen: Well, ending on that intellectual high note, we would like to direct you to the wonderful article, How the First Lady Works, written by Stuff You Missed in History Class cohost, Candace Keener. But, Molly, before we go, I think we need to read some Listener Mail. We have an awesome question sent in from Kristen, it wasn't me, I promise, it was another Kristen, Kristen with a K. Molly: Cristen writes a lot of E-mail to herself.Cristen: Just trying to boost, pad the Mom Stuff in box to make us feel better about ourselves. But with that out of the way, Kristen had a question related to our podcast on egg donation. Molly: Well, I have some bad news for you Kristen, no sex. Sex is usually off the table, and also no anti-depressants, as we were talking about in that egg donation podcast, there is a lot of psychological screening that goes into the decision of whether someone can be an egg donor, and usually anti-depressants would be a mark of no go. Cristen: Right. So, there you go. Egg donation, pretty strict process. Molly: As we discussed in Should I Donate My Eggs? So if you missed that one, you better come back through I Tunes. If you have a question like Kristen, who is not my cohost Cristen, you can E-mail us at MomStuff@HowStuffWorks.com.

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