Style Voices

Wednesday 23 October 2019

Tanya Sweeney: 'For richer, not poorer - why can't we admit life is easier when you marry money?'

Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have been married for 27 years
Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have been married for 27 years
Former president Barack Obama, right, and former first lady Michelle Obama (Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)
Winning team: Barack and Michelle Obama
Obama care: Michelle and Barack Obama met while working at a law firm
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates speak during the Goalkeepers event at the Lincoln Center on September 26, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)
U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and first lady Michelle Obama (L) welcome Chinese President Hu Jintao for a State dinner at the White House January 19, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama and Hu met in the Oval Office earlier in the day. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Tanya Sweeney

Is there nothing that Michelle Obama can't do?

First, she becomes a successful lawyer, then a First Lady, then a political powerhouse in her own right, then a literary rockstar. And now she is empowering women to live out their dreams, via The Global Girls Alliance on the International Day of the Girl through the Obama Foundation.

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Feeling a bit inadequate yet? Well, how about Melinda Gates, who has managed to get Michelle's husband onside to help spread her own message of female empowerment? During the tour for her new book The Moment Of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes The World, Melinda's husband, the Microsoft founder Bill Gates, roped in the former US president who vowed to support her Lift movement.

There's no doubt that Michelle and Melinda's hearts are in the right places. They certainly seem committed and impassioned about leading the young girls of the world towards the opportunities they crave and deserve.

Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates speak during the Goalkeepers event at the Lincoln Center on September 26, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)
Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates speak during the Goalkeepers event at the Lincoln Center on September 26, 2018, in New York. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

And yet.

There was something about this news - that these two very successful women were touring the world and imparting such wisdom - that didn't sit entirely easily with me.

And then Mary Kenny, columnist with this parish, articulated the uneasy truth I'd been grappling with. "Apparently Michelle Obama and Melinda Gates tour the world teaching women and girls how to be empowered," she tweeted yesterday. "Good for them. Do they give the advice, which has empowered them? First, marry the right man (preferably with $$$$). My mother's advice exactly."

To which I'd better follow up with a caveat: Michelle Obama was the one with her head screwed firmly on when she met the 44th president. He, meanwhile, took years to get his ducks in a row.

Likewise, Melinda was no slouch: a Duke graduate, Melinda led the development on many Microsoft products including Word, Encarta and Money, before she began dating the boss, Bill.

They would certainly have found agency and empowerment in their lives one way or the other, but there's no doubting their respective choices of husband has helped propel them beyond the realm of mere superwoman.

Mary Kenny's mum's advice might sound crass and a bit retrograde in the current cultural climate, but let's just call it. She's right. Because whatever your feminist credentials, a good man can often maketh a great woman.

Now, before you woke types burst a blood vessel, I'm not saying that a woman can't achieve greatness off her own bat. She can, and has. Countless times.

Yet when it comes to finding a partner, it would do a woman well to choose her plus-one carefully.

Because if you're a woman, marrying the right man, and preferably one with the aforesaid $$$, means that you become one half of a formidable team. Life becomes less a slog and more a comfortable glide. If both of you pull your weight, pool your resources and nurture each other's goals and achievements, it's easier to achieve greatness.

Obama care: Michelle and Barack Obama met while working at a law firm
Obama care: Michelle and Barack Obama met while working at a law firm

If there's sufficient fiscal comfort in this union, it gets a lot easier to strive for success, to take risks, to shoulder the odd knock and to chase opportunities. If the bills are taken care of, it gives women the comfort and confidence to reach out, lean in, whatever she wants to do. Oh, and the access to paid help, if it's needed.

I'm in awe of women who pulled their way up to success all by themselves - think Lynn Ruane or JK Rowling - but more often than not, I meet 'self-made' women, whose ventures or hustles were only possible because Him Indoors was able to take charge of the bills for a length of time.

Now, let's consider the other scenario for a second. If you find yourself hitched to a deadbeat bloke, it's that bit harder to empower yourself. Your resources, whether it's time, responsibility, help or money, are less bountiful. Reaching for the stars becomes harder than Michelle and Melinda make it sound.

In Sharon Horgan's comedy Motherland, the second series of which aired on BBC 2 earlier this week, the protagonist Amanda's husband is a shadowy absence.

While he's often too 'flat out' in the pub/team-building weekend/stag do to pull his weight at home, Amanda is run ragged trying to keep body and soul together. She's spinning the work, family and life admin plates alone, never quite succeeding at any of them. It's a damn sight more realistic than what Michelle Obama is selling. Ironically, it's precisely the realistic scenario that so many of us need to become 'empowered' to handle.

I'll see you at that public lecture, ladies.

Irish Independent

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