Is Melania Accidentally Feminist?
Have you heard? Melania is not performing her first-lady duties. According to all of the major news outlets, this is devastating to the state of our country. Apparently, if White House tours do not commence immediately, our nation will perish. I won’t speculate on why she’s not leading these tours, why she hasn’t planned a first lady campaign yet, or why she’s not living in the White House (she’s instead living in New York with her son,) of which there are legitimate concerns regarding using taxpayer dollars to fund secret service in an entirely different city. For the time being, let’s instead focus on her failing to perform her first lady “responsibilities.”
You could argue — and people have argued — that the first lady’s role is sexist. We expect her to be warm, inviting, and hospitable. She is supposed to spend her days making small talk with caterers, attending events with her husband, and giving tours. All of this work — and it is work — is unpaid. Her husband is one of the most influential, powerful, and important people in the world, and she’s expected to smile, look pretty, and suck it up.
Being a first lady is, in many ways, a thankless job. Regular citizens envy her “glamourous” life, presuming her days to be filled with socialization and relaxation. I’m not suggesting we pity Melania, but when we deem something to be a “woman’s job,” we, as a society, are guilty of glossing over it. We give far too little praise and money to women for our enormously high expectations. A first lady’s days are likely incredibly emotionally taxing. It’s exhausting to constantly put on a happy face. Rightly or wrongly, our president’s wife impacts our perception of him. Because we judge him based on who she is, it’s critical that the world perceives the first lady positively.
Women are supposed to be agreeable, hospitable, kind, and positive. Melania, by refusing to play by the rules that this game has instilled for her, is not being any of these things.
You know who else refuses to play by the rules that society has put in place for them?
I don’t think Melania is intentionally skimping on her assigned responsibilities in the name of feminism, though I don’t pretend to read her mind. That said, are there feminist ramifications to her behavior? I argue, yes.
Feminism is premised on choice. Others cannot possibly pretend to know the best course of action for us to personally take. Essentially, that’s exactly what Melania is saying through her behavior. She’s rejecting the pre-assigned role society has imposed on her. This is not the life she wanted, not the life she chose, not the life she intended or planned for. She was forced to go along with it when her husband chose to run for president of the United States. Now, she’s not behaving like any previous first lady in history, and collectively, we’re spending far too much time analyzing that fact. Her husband is unlike any president we’ve ever had before, too.
Of course, there are problematic consequences to completely disregarding the system already in place. For decades, though, trailblazers have ignored the status quo in favor of a vision only they could see.
It’s unlikely that Melania is disregarding her pre-imposed sanctions with a larger feminist goal in mind. However, it’s undeniable that her behavior has feminist implications and consequences. Whether her refusing to perform her (unpaid) “job” will have long-lasting implications in Washington remains to be seen. But, if it at least sparks a conversation about the first lady’s role in the White House, it’s already accidentally feminist.