Sometimes you just know that you are witnessing history: when Kennedy was shot; the first human stepping onto the moon; or when Margaret Thatcher became the first female British prime minister. At other times, history creeps up on you, such as the invention of the internet, or Twiggy getting a damehood for being the face of the 1960s.
I'm not sure whether Michelle Obama crept up on me or exploded into my consciousness. But her autobiography makes it clear that her extraordinary life has been one of determination and immaculate planning. She can’t have known that she would find herself living in the White House, but it sure took some hard graft to get there. If she had not backed her husband so resolutely, it's unlikely there would have been an African-American President of the United States in 2008.
When ‘Becoming’ was published last year, the headlines were all about Michelle’s miscarriage, her daughters born by IVF, and the marriage guidance counselling. ‘How tedious,’ I thought. ‘These are such stereotypical women's issues. Isn’t she a clever feminist, fighting for our rights to be equal?’ But having read the book, I now see it was just typical journalism, and we all know that most journalists don't bother to read a whole book, especially one that is 428 pages long.
|Happy First Family|
She is honest, not just about the difficulties in getting pregnant, but also her resistance to politics and her husband's desire to be president. She made huge personal sacrifices, but refused to give up being a good parent, and managed to raise two sensible daughters under the relentless glare of the media.
Michelle is no non-speaking fashion model, like the current First Lady of the US. As soon as the first presidential election was won, she said to herself, ‘How can I use this unique platform for the greatest good?’ But she had to navigate what was, and was not, acceptable for a FLOTUS to do. She looked at previous First Ladies and decided that she didn’t want to arrange flowers, but nor did she want to be seen to be involved in her husband's political work, as Hilary Clinton had. So she concentrated on childhood nutrition, families of servicemen, and inspiring under-privileged young people to do better. Following her visit to a girls’ state school in London the girls were so affected that their grades and university admissions noticeably improved.
|The First Lady of the United States at home.|
|Michelle Robinson Obama by Amy Sherald, 2018.|
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian INstitute, USA
I predict that the compelling life of Michelle Obama will be retold in many a school history lesson about ‘Great and Inspiring Women of the 21st Century’. Read this candid and powerful book now, and be ready to tell your grand-daughters all about her. She will inspire them that anything is possible: they don’t need special talents, just plain old-fashioned perseverance.
|Women on the campaign trail|
Copyright Charlie Neibergall Associated Press
‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama, published by Penguin Viking, 2018.