Given that I benefit from Male Privilege, it had not specifically occurred to me until today that the office of First Lady of the United States does not come with a salary.
This journey began earlier today when the following image and the occupying article (click the image to view the article) from Conservative Post caught my attention in my News Feed on Facebook:
Michelle Obama complained several times about being First Lady and not getting paid.
Obama complained about that too. On Wednesday he said:
“I want to make sure that when she’s working she’s getting paid the same as men, I gotta say that First Ladies right now don’t get paid, even though that’s a tough job!”
How different from Laura Bush. Watch what she said about this issue.
And includes this video, where Laura Bush says:
There are plenty of perks, believe me. A chef that was really great. That’s – I miss the chef. You know, I don’t think so. No. I don’t think so. And I think the interesting question really is not should they receive a salary but should they be able to work for a salary at their job that they might have already had. And I think that what’s where we’ll have to come to terms with. Should, you know, well, I mean, for certainly, a First Gentleman might continue to work at whatever he did if he was a lawyer or whatever. And so I think that’s really the question we should ask is should she have a career during those years that her husband is president in addition to serving as the First Lady.
By doing more research, I found the full interview here, which occurred October 28, 2013. The video excerpt used in the Conservative Post is 58 seconds of a 1 hour, 23 minute, and 16 second talk.
While the the image preview (which is not actually in the article) and accompanying caption suggests a dialogue between Laura Bush and Michelle Obama about First Ladies being paid occurred, no such conversation has happened. The image preview kind of comes from a talk (find the text here and video here) between the two on August 6, 2014. The biggest irony of this talk considering that Laura Bush “told” Michelle Obama is that both of these women and the moderator (and “moderator” is too strong of a word for this context) talked about their agreed upon importance of Women and Girls having access to education, health care, and equality (although they mean equity) across the World.
And on the note of the preview that comes up when this Conservative Post article is shared on Facebook: I have watched the video twice and unless I missed it, its image is highly photoshopped because there is no scene that comes close to matching it. There are several times when they look at each other or look away, but within the context of the video, it is because they are laughing, etc.
And I cannot find any statements where Michelle Obama has said anything about not being paid as First Lady, nor have I heard any, and I have heard many of her talks. If any one has evidence of such, please do share it.
So now that we have gotten the bad journalism out of the way, let’s talk about the more important issue: Women around the United States (and the World) are not paid for their work. OR, they are underpaid. Women also–still–face a lower glass ceiling than Men. And complications only increase with Women of Color or with other variables of intersectionality. Did you know that the majority of so-called First World Countries give Women with children a paycheck?
The “debate” (and I am not really sure there even is one) originates, as best I can tell, when President Obama commented about the importance of paying Women for their work. (Which reminds me, my graduate school advisor always says: since I make less than Men, there should be a separate section in the store where items cost less.) On June 17, 2014, Obama said:
This is not a women’s issue, this is a family issue. Women now bring in close to half of all income, and there are a whole lot of families out there where the woman is the primary breadwinner. And if Michelle is not being paid fairly, then that’s not helping me. I want her to get what she rightfully deserves. I want her being paid the same as a man doing the same job, because that is helping our family. I will say, the first lady is kind of a bad example, because the first lady doesn’t get paid. And she works pretty hard. Obviously, we’re OK….
Just these brief words were, sadly, all it took to set off people en masse who are for some reason opposed to Women making money and making money for their labor. The irony here is that capitalism, which people on the Right love, is all about buying an individual’s time and paying “him” for it.
So, while the First Lady is not an officially de jure position, it might as well function as one. She is just as much “elected” as her husband. Just as a Vice Presidential candidate runs alongside the Presidential candidate, the spouses are all a package deal, per se. Before c. 1933, the First Lady was more “just” the wife, but since then it has emerged into its own office, a very important office with very important and specific (required) functions. She deserves to be paid for being First Lady. First Lady’s assist with a variety of public health issues (and “health” defined broadly).
(Updated Jan 3, 2015, 9:11 PM: Thanks to @hyperplanes for informing me that First Ladies have also played an important role in raising funds, especially in the 19th century.)
If no one ever heard from or saw the First Lady, there would be questions and criticisms everywhere (especially coming from the opposite political party). Thus, it is expected that she too work. Did you know the First Lady has her own office and staff at the White House?
Additionally, I guarantee you, as soon as there is a “First Gentleman,” especially if this individual follows Republican or Tea Party ideologies, it will become a Paid Position before you can even blink.
Paying the First Lady (or a First Gentleman) would mainly be a symbolic gesture. Just as paying the President, who currently makes around $500,000 yearly, is basically symbolic. But paying the First Lady is especially important, a concern of national and international interest, it would be an important gesture to all–one far from symbolic–that Women and their Work are valued and acknowledged.
Please share! It would be wonderful if the Obamas (and other former Presidents and First Ladies) saw this.