Fight for First Ladies!
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Really? First Ladies? Not exactly an oppressed group. But catching snippets of a discussion of the role of First Ladies (pro and con—how some of them contributed to slavery, for example) on NPR’s March 23 segment of The Takeaway last week reminded me of one of my private outrages: how is it that First Ladies don’t get paid?
They have huge jobs and face enormous performance expectations. I see the failure of paying them as an extension of the devaluing of so much of women’s work. There are numerous of examples of how this plays out beyond the obvious of women generally doing much of the unpaid work of running a household and rearing children. Traditionally, the wives of many elected officials—governors and mayors, for example—were expected to take on ceremonial roles on an unpaid basis. Ministers’ wives often carried a burden of expectations that is not compensated or recognized in any official manner.
Now that so many clergy and elected officials are female and in some cases male with male spouses, I wonder how that is changing. And I will be curious to see what happens when the president’s spouse is not female—will the role of First Spouse be finally recognized as full-time job?
In the meantime, I would argue that paying First Spouses of whatever gender would signal a recognition of the many types of unpaid labor provided by mostly female, but (slowly) increasingly other genders regarding household management and the care of children, elders, and the disabled. And pave the way toward dignifying that work by compensating it and thus, I suspect, allowing people of all genders to undertake it.