My Problem with Michele
by Tamara Watkins
Last weekend, Michele Bachmann became the first woman to win the Ames Straw Poll.
I really, really want to see a woman become president. I want to see a woman become president more than I want anything else, short of peace on earth, an upturn in the American economy, and a third season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. I want to be happy that Bachmann is turning into a trailblazer. I want to be excited that, for the second consecutive election, a female presidential candidate is generating interest. I just can't get excited, and it's all Bachmann's fault.
Bachmann's personal life and religious views keep me from getting too excited about her candidacy. Bachmann's politics personally offend me. She's a classic example of a woman reaping the benefits of feminism while actively working toward undermining and reversing the advances women have made. Bachmann holds a JD and an LL.M. in tax law, explaining that she studied tax law at the behest of her husband, despite her lack of interest in the field, explaining that it's important for women to be submissive to their husbands.
Bachmann is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, a very socially, politically, and theologically conservative Christian denomination. Members of this synod interpret the Bible literally. Bachmann's religious beliefs no doubt influence her (and her husband's) anti-gay and anti-choice views. I attended WELS schools as a child, and recieved intensive religious training in this synod, which informs my opinion of Bachmann and the influence her religion has on her politics. Bachmann's pronouncement on the importance of submissiveness reminds me of a lesson in my Confirmation class in which my church's pastor told us about what women may do (teach their children) and may not do (teach men, become pastors). Bachmann's admission that she submits to her husband's will strikes me as a strategy of apologizing for being a woman with power. I know I have a job outside the home, but it's okay! I know my place! I'm adhering to Ephesians 5:24—no worries, conservative, Bible-believing men. Ironically, her pronouncement, clearly intended for an audience of religiously conservative voters who use the Bible as a compass for all aspects of life, might fall on deaf ears; literal interpreters of the Bible might not be keen on the idea of a female president, as it's not Biblically sanctioned. (It's worth noting that Bachmann doesn't comply with all Biblical guidelines regarding gender politics, as she supervised a man and violated 1 Timothy 2:12. Perhaps some Biblical injunctions are meant to be ignored when it's convenient?)
For those of us who don't interpret the Bible literally, Bachmann's pronouncement on the necessity of wifely submission presents different, but no less nuanced, questions about her candidacy. Normally, I would argue that one's marriage should remain a private matter, and should not become fodder for public discourse. (I came of age during the Clinton years. Does it show?) However, the Bachmanns' very personal marital relationship could have very public consequences. One wonders how much influence her husband will wield if Representative Bachmann becomes President Bachmann. Bachmann's admission that she studied tax law only because her husband told her to raises further questions. Does Marcus Bachmann realize that his wife is infinitely more charismatic than he is and stands a better chance of getting elected? Is Michele Bachmann a stand-in for Marcus Bachmann, putting a pretty face on his reprehensible politics?
Female politicians, regardless of their political affiliations, face sexism that undermines their political ambitions. Rep. Bachmann's glib admission that she follows her husband's orders, and the implication that she disregards her own thoughts in favor of her husband's, lends credibility to the idea that women shouldn't be involved in politics. Why do you have to give them more ammo, Rep. Bachmann?
Image via Reuters.
Tamara Watkins teaches college classes and semi-professionally gets angry about politics.