How Michelle Obama's Critics Undercut Progress

Becoming a mother last year fundamentally shifted the way I think about leadership and how we create a more just and healthy world. I've realized that one of the biggest barriers to our progress is shame. It's what keeps us feeling isolated and prevents us from realizing that we share the same struggles, and the same hopes. And it's especially evident among women (like me) who are fighting to balance our careers with the demands of parenting.

That's why I was so uneasy when I saw the Politico story this week titled "Leaning Out: How Michelle Obama became a feminist nightmare." The piece gives voice to critics who say the First Lady is squandering her position by sticking with "safe" issues like healthy food and fitness, and by prioritizing her role as a mother.

The problem is that these attacks on Michelle Obama just feed into the idea that women should feel bad -- ashamed -- for making the choice to prioritize motherhood, or promote childcare and kids' health. This gets us nowhere. After all, feminism shouldn't be about limiting our choices or creating a single mold for what it means to be a woman and powerful at the same time.

When we criticize Michelle Obama for focusing on motherhood, we're just furthering hobbling ourselves. What we really need to be doing is working to find ways to support women who want to be mothers, or who want to focus on their careers -- and women who want to do both.

As Salon's Roxane Gay puts it, "The shame here is clear: Motherhood, fitness and early education are beneath feminists."

They shouldn't be. Because nothing will do more to shape our country's future than our decisions about how we raise, educate, and care for our children and their health. Yet, for all the political rhetoric about the importance of families, we do very little to support the folks, mostly women, who are caring for our next generation of citizens and leaders.

In fact, we're seeing a steady move to scale back investment in education, childcare, and healthy food for kids. By advocating for children and families at this point in history, Michelle Obama is more progressive than she gets credit for. The idea that taking a bold position on policy is the best, or only way, for Michelle Obama to make a difference is shortsighted.

And nothing undercuts the gains women have made more than laying shame on each other for our choices. It's a mean-girl tactic, and when we use it, we become our own worst enemies.