|Scooped by Cindy Sullivan|
I was among more than 1,500 people who braved the 102-degree heat in D.C. Thursday afternoon to hear what Michelle Obama had to say about work-family issues and other matters close to women’s hearts. The occasion was, officially, the 40th anniversary of the National Partnership for Women and Families, a major player in health care, paid leave, and workplace flexibility advocacy. But the event felt more rock concert than fundraiser when the first lady took the stage, dressed in hot pink and bangles. The audience immediately stood, craning our necks to catch sight of the woman who is to many a feminist megastar. The eruption of adulation in the giant ballroom made my eyes tear.The First Lady spoke warmly and respectfully of the women’s movement. Referring to 1971, when she was just seven and the National Partnership was founded, Obama noted that “The ceiling wasn’t just glass back then, it was more like concrete.” She lamented the fact that Richard Nixon had no women in his cabinet, and praised a law against pregnancy discrimination that was passed in 1978. But it was more what came out of her mouth that gave them impression that Michelle Obama is the First Feminist. She exuded the confidence of a woman who feels secure in – and beyond – her place of power. Adept at discussing legislation and cultural movements, she was just as comfortable throwing in a joke about polyester. (“Tough times,” she noted drily of the seventies-era obsession with the fabric.) Obama seemed to embody a notion at the center of feminism: that women can be not just intelligent and powerful, but at ease with that, too.The main obstacle to progress is Republican opposition. And given that opposition, there has been a surprising amount of success. Most notably, health reform passed which helps women and mothers, who are disproportionately uninsured,get health coverage. So did the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which extended the period in which a woman – or man – can file an equal-pay lawsuit, and which Obama signed upon entering office. The White House also created a Forum on Workplace Flexibility and another on Women and Girls. Still, it’s not the revolution that seemed possible during the campaign. And I can’t help but imagine how much more progress we might have made if Michelle Obama had been able to unleash her formidable power on issues central to women’s equality and workplace fairness.