Michelle Obama’s Becoming has sold more than 10 million copies since its release before Christmas, and is on-track to become the most-selling memoir of all time, according to publisher Bertelsmann.
Given her global superstar profile a Michelle Obama memoir would have achieved record-sales even if it had contained blank pages only. Still, the book’s popularity is remarkable.
Does its popular appeal signal anything?
While Michelle Obama is certainly very bright and gifted and could have made a successful career in law (or other domains) in her own right, she effectively surrendered her own career to that of her husband. It was an act of self-preservation, foreseeing that his ambition would swallow hers.
From the review in VOX:
But after college, she finds herself without a clear-cut direction. She falls into law school and then a position at a major Chicago law firm because it seems like the logical next step for her, and she excels despite her lack of passion for the work.
It’s not until she meets Barack Obama and starts to get serious about dating him that she begins to consider that she ought to direct her professionalambition elsewhere — and she is clear about the fact that her decision is, in part, an act of self-preservation.
“I was deeply, delightfully in love with a guy whose forceful intellect and ambition could possibly end up swallowing mine,” she writes. “I saw it coming already, like a barreling wave with a mighty undertow.”
She decides that she’ll have to make room in her life for the ideas that truly interest her — “education, teen pregnancy, black self-esteem” — and takes a pay cut to stop practicing law and start working in city hall instead. Eventually, she lands a position as a vice president at the University of Chicago hospital.
Michelle Obama is essentially the anti-Sheryl Sandberg. Leaning out rather than leaning in. As she bluntly blurted out a book event in December — before quickly collecting herself:
“That whole, ‘So you can have it all.’ Nope, not at the same time,” she said. “That’s a lie. And it’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work all the time.”
As opposed to the ice-cold non-cookie baking Hillary, Michelle Obama embraced the soft power image of a non-political FLOTUS, and seems to have ended up all the more popular as a result.
From the Guardian review:
While Barack had to cope with the burden of that 40lb “nuclear football”lugged around by a military aide, Michelle astutely exercised what she calls “soft power”. Hillary Clinton antagonised housewives everywhere by refusing to stay at home and bake cookies; as First Lady, Michelle devoted herself to planting a vegetable garden in the White House grounds – an enterprise that looked harmlessly domestic, although this “miniature Eden” also provided her with an excuse for lecturing obese America about healthy eating.
So, while many modern women are obviously attracted by the Lean-in mantra, does the massive popularity of Michelle Obama’s — whose Secret Service codename was Renaissance — signal a renaissance for the traditional housewife? A role that may hold more appeal for many women than the feminists would have us believe?