Michelle Obama: Women’s New Best Friend?

Allison Stevens

While playing the conventional role of a political wife in her speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Michelle Obama stuck in a plug for equal pay.

Will Michelle Obama be women’s rights activists best friend in the White House since Eleanor Roosevelt?

While recent first ladies have focused on everything from drug abuse
to highway beatification, few modern first ladies have put a high
premium on issue of particular concern to women — issues like breast
cancer, the cost of child care, and reproductive rights. To be sure,
Hillary Clinton was a strong ally to women during her stay in the White
House, but she made the broader issue of health care — rather than
issues of particular concern to women — her highest priority.

As I reported in Women’s eNews,
Obama says her top concern is issues facing women in the workplace —
that is, pay discrimination and difficulties women have balancing the
demands of work and family.

Policy issues that fall under that rubric include efforts to amend
fair pay laws and initiatives to allow employees to take paid leave to
take care of themselves or family members, encourage companies to offer
flexible work schedules the opportunity to telecommute — all
initiatives that would help women because they shoulder the nation’s
caregiving responsibilities in addition to work responsibilities.

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While playing the conventional role of a political wife in her
speech on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in
Denver, Obama stuck in a plug for equal pay — sparking thunderous
applause by the delegates in the convention hall.

In her speech she also paid tribute to the suffragists, noting that
Tuesday marks the 88th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment
giving women the right to vote. And she gave a nod to Hillary Clinton,
thanking her for putting "those 18 million cracks in the glass
ceiling"–a reference to the votes she received in the primary
contest–"so that our daughters and sons can dream a little bigger and
aim a little higher."

Obama has made issues of importance to women a common refrain on the campaign trail.

"What about the vast majority of women, who are the lifeblood of our
society — nurses, schoolteachers, bus drivers, single-parent mothers
— who don’t have that structure?" asked Obama, a working mother, in a
2007 interview with National Public Radio. "Is there a way that we can
invest differently in this country to bring more support and attention
to the issues that are basically strangling the family unit?"

If her husband wins the White House, Michelle Obama, in fact, may be
the best friend women’s rights advocates have had in the White House
for a long time.

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