Katie Byrne: Would we have more respect for 'Missing Melania' if she was less of a pitiful victim?
She's alive! After a 24-day 'disappearance', Melania Trump has been found safe and well at a White House event to honour Gold Star families.
The 'missing' FLOTUS underwent surgery for a benign kidney issue on May 14, after which she spent a few days in bed recuperating.
Occam's razor would suggest that her lengthy absence from public life was related to her medical procedure. But that would be much too simple an explanation for the Trump administration, where fact is often stranger than fiction.
Speculation was rife and it didn't take long for the #MissingMelania hashtag to gain momentum on social media. Was Melania recovering from another 'procedure'? Had she moved back to New York? Was she in the Witness Protection Programme after being outed as a Russian spy?
Conspiracy theory is a fringe obsession on social media. Melania's disappearance turned it into a mainstream sport within a matter of days.
Bette Midler took to Twitter to suggest that Melania had "just drunk-cut her own bangs" and didn't want to be seen by her fans. Thousands more got involved with theories that ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. (Special mention to the 'truthers' who insist that Melania has a body double.)
This isn't the first time the notoriously- private Melania has cancelled public engagements. What's interesting, however, is that Melania has a higher approval rating than her husband. The reluctant First Lady's favourability rating jumped by 10 points to 57pc in a recent CNN poll - a significant rise for a woman who is often described as an 'enigma'.
It seems we've developed a soft spot for Melania, but it has little to do with her policy goals or oratory style.
We have no interest in the 'Be Best', social crusading, media-managed Melania. Her fashion game is strong, but her influence is no match for the sleeves-rolled-up style of her predecessor, Michelle Obama.
No, we have fallen for our perception of Melania as the helpless victim; the damsel in distress that has to be saved from the White House tower.
Melania takes a backseat and we assume she lacks agency. Melania flinches when her husband touches her and we wonder what's going on behind closed doors.
Melania follows Barack Obama on Twitter and we decide that she is finally hitting her ego-maniacal husband where it hurts. Melania goes missing for three weeks and we imagine the very worst.
We're rooting for Melania to rise up, out of her husband's shadow, but are we ready to free her of the symbolic victim role? We have a history of building women up just so we can knock them down, after all.
Melania, for her own part, is smart enough to know that approval ratings aren't always rooted in respect. We approve of strong, charismatic leaders, but we also approve of oppressed underdogs, rebels and victims...
Sympathy can be stifling but power can be intoxicating. And while they say it's better to be envied than pitied, in Melania's case, it might be better to be pitied than disliked.
Slumming it for class warfare
Location, Location, Location presenter Kirstie Allsopp recently incurred the wrath of sanctimommies everywhere when she revealed that she and her husband turn left when they board an airplane, while their two children (Bay, 12, and Oscar, 10) turn right.
"When we fly as a family, the boys do fly separately from Ben and me if we're not in economy together," she explained. "Obviously this wasn't the case when they were little, but now they are big enough to sit separately, they do... Club Class should be a huge treat you've worked hard for."
This seems perfectly reasonable. Pre-teens aren't tall enough to struggle with leg room, nor are their palates sophisticated enough to appreciate the complex flavours of foie gras and wagyu sirloin.
Besides, a flight is one of the few times that parents can enjoy peace and quiet, so why not make the most of the experience if you've worked hard enough to afford the trappings of first class air travel?
This was the very point TV chef Gordon Ramsay made when he revealed that he and his wife travel first class, while their four children travel economy. "I do not want them sat there with a 10 course f***ing menu with champagne," he said in a tirade that had the santimommies reaching for their smelling salts.
There was a time when Allsopp and Ramsay's parenting choices were standard practice. Nowadays, in the era of child-centred parenting, there's a strong cohort of mums and dads who couldn't imagine depriving their child of the latest technology, the most diverse extracurricular activities and the best seats on the airplane. Perish the thought that they might think about themselves for once...