Above: Nancy, Jackie, Michelle, Barbara, Laura, Hillary,Rosalyn and Eleanor
There is a new exhibit on “First Ladies: Styles of Influence” at the George W. Bush Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University. Much of it is dedicated to the clothes first ladies chose to wear and this is what attracts most visitors’ attention.
Is this a frivolous pursuit? Or some atavistic remnant of pageantry and royalty watching? What do we really expect of our first ladies? After all we did not select them for who they were but who they “came with”. A first lady does not have an assigned job. She is not paid. She did not choose the position and is uneasy and unsure of what to do with it.
We do like our first ladies to champion some cause, preferably a benign, non-controversial one. Being interested in children’s welfare, parks and recreation, literacy or some other do-good activity is very much approved of.
Can a first lady keep her outside job? After all Jill Biden did keep hers.
If Hillary had been elected would we have expected Bill to sit home and tap visitors on the shoulder to exchange pleasantries with them?
Do we scrutinize the clothing choices of Teresa May’s husband Philip May or Angela Merkel’s husband Joaquin Sauer? Do we expect them to leave their occupations? In fact many people do not even know their names. And what of conflict of interest? Especially if a president’s family uses their influence to promote their business interests?
Perhaps in a post-feminist society the role of first lady will become obsolete and she will be allowed to pursue the activity of her choice, whether paid or not, as long as it does not conflict with the Presidency.