Hope and Change, For Real

When President Obama won the election, I noted that part of the importance of America's having elected a black president was the crack in made in the perfect veneer of an international patriarchal system that privileges straight, white, wealthy, well-educated, cisgender, (mostly) able-bodied men:
[M]illions and millions of people, inside this country and out, [will] take inspiration from that glitch in the Matrix...will pick up a fucking teaspoon because they see hope and possibility where they saw none before.

It's not just straight black men who look at Obama and see hope and possibility. It's anyone who isn't a straight, white, wealthy, well-educated, cisgender, able-bodied man, and looks at Obama and thinks, "Well, maybe there's a chance for me, too. I'm gonna give it a try."
Today, CNN has an article on how First Lady Michelle Obama is inspiring women all over the globe in exactly that way, and what a difference it makes for a woman of color to be seen in such a powerful and respected position:
Heather Ferreira works in the slums of Mumbai, India, where she has watched thousands of women live under a "curse."

The women she meets in the squalid streets where "Slumdog Millionaire" was filmed are often treated with contempt, she says. They're considered ugly if their skin and hair are too dark. They are deemed "cursed" if they only have daughters. Many would-be mothers even abort their children if they learn they're female.

Yet lately she says Indian women are getting another message from the emergence of another woman thousands of miles away. This woman has dark skin and hair. She walks next to her husband in public, not behind. And she has two daughters. But no one calls her cursed. They call her Michelle Obama, the first lady.

"She could be a new face for India," says Ferreira, program officer for an HIV-prevention program run by World Vision, an international humanitarian group. "She shows women that it's OK to have dark skin and to not have a son. She's quite real to us."
What's amazing is that India has had a female prime minister, Indira Gandhi, yet there is still such a desperate need for female role-modeling (not just in India, but everywhere, including the US) that Michelle Obama fills it from thousands of miles away. Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, long before the internet and the information age; the images and stories of women's leadership are more accessible now, especially to women, many more of whom around the globe are literate than 25 years ago.
[Michelle Obama's] personal story -- born into a blue-collar family; overcoming racism and once even making more money than her husband -- makes her a mesmerizing figure to women across the globe, says Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women's studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Reverby says this is the first time many women have seen their class and color reflected in America's first lady.

...Sue Mbaya of Nairobi, Kenya, says the first lady inspires African woman to assert themselves in their personal and professional lives.

Many African women are conditioned to be subservient, she says. They're prevented from rising to management positions in the workplace, and their families often relegate them to taking care of household tasks while sending their brothers off to school.

But Obama is a high achiever who didn't intimidate her husband, says Mbaya, a native of Zimbabwe who is the advocacy director for World Vision's Africa's region.

"I've always liked knowing that she was Barack Obama's supervisor when they first met," Mbaya says. "He once said that he wouldn't be where he is without his wife. That really appeals to me."
An educated woman. An accomplished professional. An uncursed mother to girls. A respected wife.

These are not extraordinarily unusual attributes in America. What's shocking is how extraordinarily few women, especially women of color, with these basic, fairly common personal details and achievements are known to the entire world. What's sad is how extraordinarily few women around the world are given the chance to be educated, accomplished, uncursed, respected.

May Michelle Obama continue to inspire others so that can change.

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