Sex and Race, the White House, and the New First Lady Problem

Since the start of Michelle Obama’s term as First Lady, the United States has had a “First Lady crisis” because of its historical emphasize on Whiteness, Masculinity and Femininity, and Patriarchy. 

To be clear: people don’t vote on the President and Vice President alone but also the First Lady and Second Lady. The Office of the First Lady of the United States has grown in power and should be paid – that it isn’t is another indicator of the sexism in our nation.

Until the 2008 and 2012 election cycles, it was a given that the First Lady would be White, female, generally submissive, and focused on concerns related to the family.

The Obamas have been attacked for their Blackness an absolutely insane number of times. Michelle Obama has probably been attacked more than any other First Lady because of her Blackness and the “queerness” of her “foreign-born” Black husband. (And she’s been an outstanding First Lady.)

Looking at the 2016 election cycle, the nation ultimately had a choice between two different and “problematic” “First Ladies” – both defied standards and ideals imbedded in the mores of the United States. 

Bill Clinton had difficulties due to his pervious service as President for eight years and due to his masculinity (and “Blackness”). People would be uncomfortable with the gender bending that would occur if he was a traditional “First Lady,” and they would also be uncomfortable if he had some kind of other role. People don’t like it when roles are switched around.

Melania Trump also broke standards with her status as a very recent non-White immigrant, as a former actress in various pornographic industries, and as someone with an accent different than the majority of people in the United States, for example. HOWEVER, Trump’s very domineering nature and her very submissive nature (at least in public) overcome standards of race and sex. Likewise, Trump’s power, meanness, success, and Whiteness, provide her with Whiteness-by-association. Additionally, her past “sins” (via her work as an actress – and to be clear, I reject concepts of “sin”) were “forgiven” and “cleansed” by the power of Trump, which people see as translating to the nation. Trump will cure all, they believe. Given the United States’s intense unseen focus on race, Melania Trump probably would not have received as many votes if her contender had been a “regular” and “proper” White woman.  

So, hopefully, this makes sense.

Melania Trump, in sum, provided an opportunity for people to reassert the “proper” role of the First Lady, as much as possible. People overlook her “flaws” of behavior, class, and race because she has become a “proper” female, in all of the ways stereotypically expected, all the ways that perfect fit with doing what “father says.” See Madonna–whore complex.

Andrew Joseph Pegoda