Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Gordon Gartrelle says: Which Part of Michelle Obama's Body Will They Debate Next?
Chauncey and I often discuss Michelle Obama’s booty. It’s not what you think. Well before her backyard became a news story, Chauncey and I had tried to unpack the fixation on the body of Michelle Obama (the fixation on President Obama’s body is related, but distinct).
The treatment of Mrs. Obama’s figure goes beyond the typical, inane, sexist reduction of First Ladies to their bodies and clothes. With Mrs. Obama, there is a fixation on her perceived or imagined nudity. There is also an unreasonable expectation that she uphold stodgy norms of decorum (e.g. hugging the Queen, dressing conservatively and formally at all times). These hangups signal the persistence of race and class stereotypes about black women’s behavior while recalling the historical public uneasiness about the black female body.
Peep the slow creep of the debates surrounding Mrs. Obama’s body parts:
*September, 2008: Her boobs
This one didn’t really make a splash.
*Nov, 2008: Her butt
This one did make a splash, and it’s not surprising why: black women are more commonly associated with their butts than with any other body part. Even we got into the action a bit. I think that media folks were so uncomfortable with the sexual connotations of this discussion that they abstained from overt discussions of Mrs. Obama’s body…but only for a short while.
*February, 2009. Her hair
This moved us away from her lower half altogether, but it’s really a black thing; I’m not sure that everyone else gets the class and cultural implications of this one.
*March, 2009: Her arms
Now they’ve moved back down her body. Though stupid, this discussion seems safe because womens’ arms aren’t commonly sexualized or racialized.
*August, 2009: Her legs
Is it appropriate for a distinguished woman to wear active/vacation wear when she goes on vacation? Because of this dumb (non)story, I’ve probably sworn off TV news for good.
And believe me, it’s not over. So, we ask our readers--which of Michelle Obama's body parts will be the next subject of debate? Where will it end?