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‘They Expected Her to Burn a Bunch of Bras’: Michelle Obama Reflects on White Feminists Criticizing Her for Calling Herself ‘Mom-In-Chief’

Michelle Obama still remembers the criticisms she faced for making motherhood a priority while serving as first lady.

By the time her husband, former President Barack Obama, was hot on the campaign trail seeking re-election, Michelle was already used to the headlines that mocked her for being a Black woman, too strong, too vocal, and much more.

Michelle Obama Mom in chief
The Obama Family. (L-R) Michelle, Maila, Barack and Sasha. Photo: @barackobama/Twitter

But when she delivered her address at the 2012 Democratic Convention, she faced a new wave of backlash: women who were not thrilled that she saw her role as a mother as equally significant as her duties in the nation’s capital.

“My most important title is “mom-in-chief.” My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world,” said Michelle at the event. Maybe to the surprise of some, a handful of women took issue with the declaration.

“Ok ‘mom in chief’ is not where i thought that sentence was headed. it was so soaring just before that,” was a reaction tweeted by Hanna Rosin, New York Magazine’s audio editorial director.

In a since-deleted tweet, self-identified feminist Jessica Valenti wrote, “I long for the day when powerful women don’t need to assure Americans that they’re moms above all else.”

In a new interview with former late-night talk show host Conan O’Brien, Michelle reflected on how referring to herself as “mom-in-chief” seemed to strike a visceral nerve with women who wanted her to separate her two worlds, or at least not highlight being a mother as part of her pride and joy.

“[W]hen I got into the White House, when people asked me what was gonna be my agenda, I said, ‘Well, my first focus is gonna be ‘mom-in-chief’…And I got criticized by feminists about that, like ‘mom-in-chief?’” She said during her appearance on the “Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend” podcast.

For those who need a reminder, the Chicago native is a Harvard graduate and practiced law long before her days as first lady were ever a thought. She is a woman who had a life apart from her husband and motherhood. But with all phases of life, entering the White House required a transition away from her career but not her role in Sasha and Malia’s lives.   

The “Becoming” author added, “I know how to work, I know how to be a professional. I knew, you know, but I thought it was an important thing to say ‘I have to control what I can.’ I brought these two kids in the world. I have to be a good mother to them before I can help anybody.”

It is also noteworthy to point out that years after she dubbed herself “mom-in-chief,” people have defended her against criticism. “Feminists made the same complaints about Michelle Obama when she said she was Mom in Chief after becoming First Lady. As if having the freedom to choose how to live your life isn’t feminism. Sick of these coddled morons,” tweeted one person in 2018.

“Apparently it makes racist white ppl go mad whenever a black Woman is experiencing motherhood i.e Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Michelle Obama made them hurl when she described herself as ‘mom in chief’ when asked if she had political ambitions now they are after Meghan Markle,” tweeted another.

Now, with both her daughters grown and navigating life on their own terms, the former FLOTUS still shares a similar appreciation for motherhood. In November, she told NPR, “I don’t miss any stage — I loved every stage of parenting my girls, but I wouldn’t go back to any of the stages. … Now that they’re young women, and now I’m less of a day-to-day manager and more of an adviser, there’s a freedom to enjoy them as individuals, to watch them grow.”

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