• Erin Zaranec

February's Leading Ladies

I celebrated the month of love by reading exclusively-female authors. My reading list included Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, Run by Anne Patchett, ...and His Lovely Wife by Connie Schultz, Brown White Black by Nishta J. Mehra, and The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

While I loved all of this reads, I found ...and His Lovely Wife to be ultra-inspiring. I was fortunate enough to have Connie Schultz as a mentor during my senior year of college I had the privilege of working on-on-one with her to edit a piece I was writing and I can honestly say (cliche coming!) that the experienced changed my life.

When I was reading her memoir, I was struck by the similarities between her book and Becoming, the Michelle Obama memoir.

These two powerhouse women shared so many similarities in the midst of their husbands' political careers, here's just a few of the ones I adored:

For both women, their husband's choice to run was a partner-based decision.

I think that Michelle and Barack and Connie and Sherrod are #couplegoals. This was only reaffirmed for me when discovering that neither man felt he could run without his wife's full support, not just her halfhearted approval. Both understood the sacrifices their wives would be making to support their political careers.

For Connie and Sherrod, this decision came with ground rules that they stood by throughout the campaign trail - including: Sherrod running as a progressive, campaigning across Ohio's entire 88 counties, keeping marriage a top priority, and not flying on small seater planes.

From Barack Obamas first run for senate to his presidential run, he looked to Michelle for every move. I love that she wrote about her uncertainty of the political world and her husband's place in it - she, in fact, thought he'd get eaten alive.

Both women were fueled by the pain of losing a parent.

Michelle Obama lost her father, Fraser Robinson III, to a heart attack years before Barack began to hit the campaign trail. For Michelle, this loss was a pivotal moment in her own career path. "Losing my dad exacerbating my sense that there was no time to sit around and ponder how my life should go," she wrote.

With Barack still in law school, the loss of her father sparked Michelle into action and she reclaimed her life as her own, taking a city hall job with the then-mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley. That position is what led her to gain an insider view of politics and led her to her relationship with Valerie Jarrett.

Connie Schultz lost her father, Chuck Schultz, while Sherrod was on the campaign trail for his Senate seat. Her heart wrenching story of taking a final photo of him in his favorite suede jacket is one that stuck with me throughout the book. She was able to see her father on the campaign trail and tell the story of how her husband's work would improve the lives of people like her father.

They began operating as people before operating as a political spouse

A life in politics is, by default, a life in the public eye. When their husbands went into public office, both women lost a sense of intimate, personal privacy. While they both speak to this in their memoirs, I've loved seeing the evolution of both women during their time in the political sphere.

Schultz, for instance, is always tweeting things about her husband. And, she doesn't only recognize the positive. I adore the fact that she posts a mix of professional and personal portraits of Sherrod. In one of her latest posts, she revealed Sherrod's beat up tennis shoes that were out of sight during one of his television interviews. Twitter loved it, hated it, and had lots to say about it. And Schultz didn't let the negative comments silence her.

While her husband is still in office, and may be running for the greatest office in the nation soon, Schultz has come into her own as a political spouse. She often wrote of the frustration of young campaign staff tried to control Schultz and Brown's movements - everything was for the optics. I love that Schultz controls the optics now.

At the end of her book, Obama discussed the same evolution. She wrote candidly of her feelings at the swearing in ceremony of the 45th President, writing "I made my own optic adjustment: I stopped even trying to smile," a choice she was finally allowed to make as a person instead of as a political spouse.

"I am now at a new beginning, in a new phase of life. For the first time in many years, I'm unhooked from any obligation as a political souse, unencumbered by other people's expectations," Michelle wrote.

There are plenty of other comparisons I could dive into between these two amazing women and their memoirs - but I'll leave it to you to find out the rest by cracking open both books!


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