Last weekend was the annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, which loosely translates from wonk to Waka Flocka's "It's party, it's a party, it's a party, it's a par-tey!"
The real payoff of living in an industry town and not being in said industry is getting to show up as a plus one to a fancy pants event and not have to pretend to network, which is like a residency requirement for everyone who lives in Washington -- the Hollywood of former high school class presidents.
So instead of getting roped into semi-circles of convos about Mitt's latest gaffe, somehow my boyfriend and I kept talking about how much I cook and clean. I know? Weird, right?
At one point an acquaintance even said to him, "Hey, I see you on the train every morning," then turned to me and said, "I never see you." We all had a big laugh. Ha ha ha, Helena's a bum.
True, I don't work-work. I don't get up and join the rat race unless you count the army of Maclaren moms pushing their speed machines through the neighborhood whilst I drag Miles from bush to bush. But, obvs, I do have a career that I find fulfilling -- and all that Oprah stuff -- on most days.
Still, strangers were fascinated by the idea that I 1) spend most of my time in our house and 2) utilize my recess time to not live in filth and to feed myself and my significant other. I am, for all intents and purposes, painted as something of a housewife although I am neither married nor particularly wife-ish. And that image, however inaccurate, was met with either giggles or gasps. At one point I was low-key embarrassed. I wanted to whisper, "Stop telling everyone how good I cook and let's talk about my book or something." But that would've been silly.
Another friend in from out of town for the weekend's festivities joked that she couldn't let my boyfriend around her fiance, lest he brainwash him with tales of my coq au vin and handiness with the Swiffer. It's enough to make a woman feel radioactive.
Never once would I actually consider being a "housewife" or a "stay at home mom" -- only because both terms seem derogatory. Wait, hear me out. You're talking about the daughter of lesbian whose bedtime stories could go from Alice Walker to Dr. Seuss to Angela Davis. I got GI Joes for Christmas when Barbies were clearly on my list. My grandmother raised six children while working as many jobs. The question, "Are Men Necessary?" wasn't anything but rhetorical in my house. Being an i-n-d-e-p-e-n-d-e-n-t woman was never an option. I think it's more than just a safety net passed down among African American women. It's a shield handed down from feminist movement to feminist movement.
Which is why I'm sort of mesmerized by how Michelle Obama has been able to remix the idea of being the female primary care giver on its head with the whole "mom-in-chief" thing.
In his book, "The Audacity of Hope", President Obama writes about his wife's struggle with the "two visions of herself."
“The desire to be the woman her mother had been, solid, dependable, making a home and always there for her kids, and the desire to excel in her profession, to make her mark on the world and realize all those plans she’d had on the very first day that we met." Sounds familiar to me -- minus the kids part.
After the First Lady's big speech at the DNC a ton of "disappointed" feminists headed, "straight to Twitter to sigh about how a woman as accomplished as Michelle Obama still has to identify as a mom first in order to avoid offending the easily emasculated," according to an article in the American Prospect that defended Michelle's chosen public narrative because she, in fact, chose it.
During the Obamas appearance on "The View" Tuesday, Barbara Walters asked whether or not Michelle would ever run for office one day and the president answered for her, claiming that his wife didn't have "the temperament" for the job. Michelle agreed. "It takes a lot of patience to be the president of the United States, and I'm not that patient."
Would I want Michelle to run for office? Duh. But do I expect her to? No. She's not Hillary Clinton, the first un-First Lady, the one who famously wanted to be her husband's chief of staff once they moved into the White House. Michelle, who's championed healthy eating and supporting military families, wants none of that Washington officialness. Isn't that feminism? Choice? And the fact that both Michelle and Barack Obama recognize her current chosen role in their family structure is pretty ground breaking. Yes, she could be president, but she doesn't want to be.
I asked Twitter recently if Michelle's "mom-in-chief" rallying cry makes staying at home look any more desirable (for those who can afford it, obvs). Of course she isn't a stay-at-home mom in the strictest traditional sense (she has a staff and a national agenda) but what tradition are we talking here? 50s, 70s, 90s? Most women said they didn't consider her a SAHM, what with her degrees and resume. So is barefoot and pregnant with a 9th-grade reading level the pre-req to hustling a household now? Sounds sort of sexist to me. Either way I predict mom-in-chief will be the new black and it might look good on more feminists than Birkenstocks (see what I did there with the crazy stereotypes that do no one any good?).
I got books instead of baby dolls for presents as a kid because my mom was trying to "re-educate" me at home, and now 20 years later, I get embarrassed at parties when someone suggests I play all day. That probably says a lot more about my own indoctrination than it does theirs.