Michelle Obama, Mom-in-Chief: The Racialized Rhetorical Contexts of Maternity

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Directly following her husband’s 2008 election, Michelle Obama assumed the moniker “mom-in-chief,” and in her tenure as first lady she has extended this role to “mother” the children of the nation through her policy choices. Noting her Ivy League education and her prior work as a high-powered attorney, many White feminists decried Obama’s maternal focus. Black feminists, however, rejected those critiques, pointing to the progressive potential of Obama’s maternal persona. In this article, I explain these divergent perspectives by examining Obama’s maternal first lady rhetoric through an expansive understanding of context. Specifically, I argue that the varied readings of Obama’s maternal performances reflect the racialized rhetorical contexts within which she was acting and through which audience members understood her. This analysis points to the importance of investigating the rhetorical contexts within which both audience members and rhetors circulate and participate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-28
Number of pages18
JournalWomen's Studies in Communication
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2017


  • African American maternity
  • Michelle Obama
  • intensive mothering
  • maternal rhetoric
  • polysemy
  • rhetorical context


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