Monday, April 6, 2009

Only Practical Ambitions Allowed?

I have tried to come up with something to write in conjunction with the following paragraph from New York Contributor David Samuels, but I am failing because I honestly cannot come up with a reasonable explanation behind it.
There are clear limits to Michelle’s ambition. She went to excellent schools, got decent grades, stayed away from too much intellectual heavy lifting, and held a series of practical, modestly salaried jobs while accommodating her husband’s wilder dreams and raising two lovely daughters. In this, she is a more practical role model for young women than Hillary Clinton, blending her calculations about family and career with an expectation of normal personal happiness. Now her mother is coming to live in the White House.
Feel free to read the article, The Hero’s Foil - Normalizing the President, here in order to see the entire context. However, truth be told the context isn't helping me grab the meaning behind "a more practical role model for young women than Hillary".

An article by Katha Pollit, Mad About Michelle - Subject to Debate, tries to help me out.
That Samuels, like a 1950s home ec teacher, advises "young women" to keep their ambitions "practical" if they want to be happy shows just how disturbing Hillary Clinton--or rather the nightmare fantasy of Hillary Clinton--has been to certain male psyches. Because what if women wanted to be the ones with the wild dreams? What if they wanted men to be the enablers and nurturers? That would be awful.
I am amazed with both women. Beyond that though, I have really been quite proud of Secretary Clinton on the world stage. To hell with "practical" ambitions.


Maggie said...

The whole idea of ambitions as "practical" here seems off. Sure, it's not practical to think you'll actually BE secretary of state one day. The odds are against you. But working to further that ambition through education, service, and politics could certainly give you a worthwhile career even if you turn out not to be Clinton.

Plus, I think the comparison between Clinton and Obama is a complete apples/oranges situation. Clinton was first lady once. She could have been described in exactly the same way. It was only after her time in the white house that she got to come into her own politically, and it may actually have been the step to help her get there.

What bothers me is we're talking about Michelle as First Lady as if this is the culmination of her entire life, when actually it's a position she'll hold for a limited time and which has, by definition, limited impact politically. And so what? Who's to say your ambition and your career can't take different forms at different points in your life. Especially since, for most of us, ambition is about getting the education you want, finding the job you want that actually pays enough, and getting some kind of emotional fulfillment. If we see women fulfilling all those criteria, why should we be caring about how "practical" it is?

Mächtige Maus said...

Thank you Maggie for helping me on this one! You said what I was thinking...I was finding myself too irritated to be coherent. That was probably not a practical response from me though. :)