by Siobhan Strode
Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming was inspirational and eye-opening. It’s an easy read, broken down into three parts: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, Becoming More.
Any woman who wants to find a balance between work and family, fulfilment and contentment will find lessons littered throughout. But Michelle offers some particularly valuable snippets for women entering public life. I’m a Councillor and considering participating in the parliamentary selection process (I’m in the current cohort of Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme) – and this book, Michelle’s now painfully infamous motto (When they go low, we go high), and Nan Sloane’s excellent missives should give me a good start to life in the political sphere with some life lessons thrown in.
Mostly I loved Michelle’s fierce determination to prove herself, bith academically and in the workplace. “Am I good enough? Yes I am” really resonated. Her journey is full of highs and lows: from her childhood friendship with Santita Jackson making her feel reluctant to get involved with politics, to finding her feet in the Whitehouse. Falling in love accidentally, and her struggles with getting pregnant. Being a working mum.
Her ability to cope with, and learn from, the sexism of how she was referred to –
It’s easy to overlook that the Obamas were often on the receiving end of racism: “these people don’t belong”. Michelle was referred to as “Obama’s baby mama”, her clothes were discussed more than her work, alongside a tedious debate about whether she was an “asset or liability” to Barack. And in the book, Michelle (though she is always presented as a ‘strong woman’) talks about the emotional toll this took.
Michelle’s circle of support emphasises how important it is to have good leadership models to learn from. She shares with the reader what she has learned from colleagues, peers and mentors - particularly Czerny and Valerie as working mums figuring out their priorities, and Susan’s ability to “switch lanes”. She describes how they were “unafraid of using” their own voices, “unfazed by blowhards and didn’t second guess the power in their own points of view”. We could all learn from Michelle’s unapologetic use of networking to find herself new roles in work, and backers for Barack’s campaigns.
Becoming is a book you need to devour. It’s a handbook for how to be a campaigner or activist, or a working mum, or just a woman trying to get by. And in the end, that’s all of us.