I'm a regular reader of Slate. One of their columns is XX Factor, "What Women Really Think." It focuses on women's issues and is generally pretty progressive. However, this morning's (Feb 3) column has me seethingly mad, and is perhaps the most anti-feminist argument I have ever seen in this column. I believe it's because it's about Melania Trump, and the writer disagrees vehemently with the Trump Presidency. But that doesn't make what she says ok. If a liberal First Lady was making the same choices, I don't think she would have written this column, and that's is not only not fair, it is hypocritical and undermines women's equality.
So I wrote a response.
Here's the article: "It's Ok if Melania Isn't a Traditional First Lady. But Taxpayers Shouldn't Pay for Her Choices."
And here's my response. I couldn't find a way to email the author, so I ended up leaving my comments in the comments section, which is potentially my least favorite thing on the internet.
This may be the most anti-feminist stance I have ever seen Slate take, and I am deeply troubled by the implications.
The "position" or "role" of Spouse to the President is unpaid. She has traditionally overseen a staff of paid employees, presumably full-time with federal benefits. There is a tradition by which this person oversees White House flower arranging (requiring the services of a full-time, paid florist), food, and inexplicably, White House tours, even though the White House is a part of the National Park System, but the head of tours has to be appointed by her. Yet, instead of challenging the thinking that a full-time volunteer should be conscripted into heading these functions (instead, say, hiring a White House internal operations director to supervise the florist, chef, and tour guides), L.V. Anderson patronizingly states: “In one sense, Melania’s refusal to hew to tradition is refreshing. It is undeniably retrograde that it is considered the president’s wife’s job to oversee the traditionally feminine realms of tours, meals, and flowers. And there’s something admirable in Melania’s apparent intention to keep her life the same as it was pre-presidency. (After all, she’s not the one who ran for president.)”
D*mn straight she isn’t the one who ran for president, and, just as it’s not my job to look after “feminine realms” associated with my husband’s work, it’s not her job to look after these for her husband's work.
Lamenting that Michelle Obama would have made front-page scandal if she had tried to do something different is a cry into your beer over losing an election. If Michelle Obama had said, “no, I am keeping my career,” or “no, I’m going to handle the affairs of my family outside of the constraints of the White House because that’s what is best for my family,” she should have had the right to make that decision, just as Melania Trump should. No patronizing, no commentary on her “abdication” of “the duties of First Lady.” Drop the mic, she gets to make those decisions. In any other format than “ok, this is her decision to make,” L.V. Anderson is saying that it’s ok to prioritize one spouse’s career over another’s. Specifically, this translates to “prioritize the husband’s career over the wife’s” when it comes to the gender and sexual orientation of the person occupying the office the president.
Melania Trump garners criticism in this case because she isn’t the traditional view of a feminist. She likely doesn’t recognize that she’s smashing the patriarchal system that has relegated the First Lady into unpaid labor, with social obligations such that she requires the assistance of a “social secretary” (how about we update that terminology?), and expects that the First Lady unquestionly take on the “feminine duties of the White House” (puke.) That doesn’t make her choice less valid, and we, as feminists and thinking people, should support that choice, not undermine it because she dared to do differently before a liberal Spouse to the President did. To suggest otherwise undermines women's equality.
And as for the federal government paying for her choice? The answer shouldn’t depend on the income level of the President. It shouldn’t matter if her or she is a billionaire. The Spouse to the President and the President should make decisions about where and how to raise their family based on what is best for the family, and the Spouse to the President should decide what career choices to make, period, regardless of location.
The choice to pay for the protection of the Spouse to the President is the cost of doing business for the United States. The question LV Anderson poses, “But is it right for federal tax dollars to go to accommodating the first lady’s choice to renounce her usual duties and live in a different city from her husband?” is a false argument. It indicates that “choice to renounce” could potentially be tolerated, but certainly not accepted or condoned by the federal government, nor should it be indulged by extending the protection that has been offered (and paid for by the federal government) to every other President and Family, as well as every former President and Family, regardless of location. No. We protect Presidents and their Spouses because the election of the President to office makes that person and his family vulnerable to attack. Additionally, we protect the Spouse and/or Family because in doing so, we decrease the likelihood that through threat or injury to them, the government is compromised, and that is a cost worth incurring, period.
If we are really going to strive for the equal treatment of women, we must include ALL women, even those that make choices different than our own, vote differently from us, marry people we wouldn’t marry, and hold different views politically and socially than we hold. To do otherwise undermines the very cause we seek to advance.
I think the biggest point may be this: Don't piss me off, or I will write an essay on your @$$.
Epilogue: I have been totally vindicated. Slate's DoubleX Podcast, released on 2/9/17, makes my entire argument. I maintain I said it better, but that may be because I am one woman speaking, not three women talking to each other. Listen to it here.