“Ladies: He might not have it all right now, but be faithful, stick by his side and one day he’ll give you the world.”
This tweet by former college football player Jo Johnson offers a fresh reminder that even Michelle Obama is not immune to the microaggressions that women—especially women of color—face every day.
Last week, Johnson posted the above caption alongside past and present photographs of the first lady with president Barack Obama. (The photos had been tweeted by the White House Twitter account on Oct. 3 wishing the Obamas a happy anniversary.)
As Johnson’s post sped throughout the Twitterverse, racial equality activist Shaun King lambasted its message on Facebook. King was rightly infuriated by the implications of Johnson’s tweet. While Johnson may not have intended to insult both Obamas while perpetuating silly patriarchal stereotypes, that’s exactly what his tweet does.
The premise that women need help catching (and wedding) men has spawned countless books and websites. Much of this literature shares a common theme: it’s up to the woman to change herself in order to increase her desirability. If and when she manages to contort herself into a suitably lovable package, said woman should be honored that a man decides to pick her.
Our culture rarely expects men to make themselves over so they can land a partner. Instead, women are supposed to recognize their partners’ future potential and help them achieve it.
This is all part of a poisonous, myopic narrative that assumes women should give their all to a male partner with the promise that men will repay them later on. This idea does not support women as full-fledged adults, but rather views them as children who need to be told what to do in order to be rewarded. What we should be telling young people instead is that marriage—and relationships generally—are equal partnerships. Men and women must contribute equally to a relationship, lifting one another up socioeconomically as well as emotionally.
The irony of Johnson’s post is that the Obamas offer a refreshing example of how true partnerships can work in real life. Michelle and Barack Obama have always been equals, and they treat each other as such. It’s a shame to see an iconic couple’s history revised to fit an outdated model of relationships.
Ultimately, the “stand by your man” narrative endorsed by Johnson hurts both men and women. No man should feel that his mate has chosen him for his potential earning power. And no woman should feel that she has to change herself in order to raise her partner up, so that he can one day take care of her. Such a notion might seem romantic at first. In the real world, it’s anything but.