Have you ever wondered about Michelle Obama’s favorite childhood lunch? How about Ann Romney’s preferred brand of footwear? No? I haven’t either but apparently I should have, because these are the questions on the mind of every American woman ages eighteen and up.
One of the interesting things about this particular presidential race is that, with two such controversial candidates as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, the two potential first ladies have actually become bigger crowd-pleasers than their husbands. Michelle Obama is currently 12 percent more popular than President Obama, while Ann Romney is nine percent more popular than Governor Romney. You may have noticed a recent trend on the newsstands of magazine cover stories featuring Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Romney, because in these last crucial days leading up to the election, these women have begun desperately campaigning. However, with several exceptions, these articles usually have nothing to do with the election. We can learn about the Obama family’s morning workout routine, or ogle at the Romneys’ wedding day photos. The goal of these pieces (which I am struggling not to refer to as “fluff-pieces”) is to introduce women to the candidates’ softer sides through an inside look at their wives. Ellen Levine, longtime editor of such popular women’s magazines as Redbook and Good Housekeeping, explains that since women’s magazines have strayed away from discussing controversial political topics like abortion or gay marriage, it has become easier to include both political parties in these revealing pieces.
“Election time, they really want coverage,” says Levine.
One of the most popular recent articles about the first ladies was in Family Circle, discussing the magazine’s traditional First Lady Cookie Contest. Romney supporters, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but apparently Michelle Obama’s white and dark chocolate chip cookies are a little bit better than Ann Romney’s M&M cookies. I admit that I laughed when I found out that this cookie contest was even a real thing, but it turns out that there may be more significance to the results than one would expect. Although Michelle Obama’s cookies did lose to Cindy McCain’s in 2008, the other four out of the last five First Lady Cookie Contests have been won by the woman who would ultimately become first lady.
I know that the first lady’s job is first and foremost to support the president, and that is how it has always been. And I also understand that this publicity, though a little bit silly, can definitely sway undecided voters. Larry Hackett, the editor in chief of People, says that readers should not underestimate the discipline and strategy that goes into these pieces, which he describes as, “an opportunity for them to show a side of them that helps people make up their minds.” So yes, these articles aren’t pointless. But aren’t they just a little bit insulting? Michelle Obama, who has spent the last four years of her husband’s presidency battling obesity in schools, is now being asked to reveal that her guilty pleasure is french fries. If it weren’t for Ann Romney’s articles and TV appearances during the past week, her husbands approval rating would still be suffering from his questionable performance in the debate, and now she is being interviewed about her horses. These women aren’t teen idols; they’re important, intelligent, potentially powerful figures, and personally I don’t really care who wore-it-best, baked-it-best or birthed the cutest kids (This one is actually an easy decision between two adorable young daughters or five scary adult sons.). The topics discussed in these articles are demeaning to the value of Mrs. Romney and Mrs. Obama as potential leaders, and equally insulting to the intelligence of their female readership. Why is this information only appearing in women’s magazines, and only including “fun-facts” that will appeal to the stereotypical woman? Your vote is your voice, but if your voice is based on whether you prefer The Sound of Music or It’s a Wonderful Life, then I don’t know if I want you to be responsible for choosing our commander in chief.
In case you were wondering, the former is preferred by Mrs. Romney and the latter by Mrs. Obama. I hope this isn’t what ultimately makes up your mind, and I hope that these fluffy cover stories don’t distract voters from the real questions at hand.
For example: What if Barack Obama makes an even better cookie and nobody has tried it yet?