Inside the Sexist Expectations of Being a First Lady: The Broadsheet

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t want an Elizabeth Warren presidency, Meghan Markle sues over tabloid coverage, and we get a glimpse inside the weird world of first ladies. Have a wonderful Wednesday. 


– A first lady tells all. As someone whose job includes writing headlines—a surprisingly difficult art—I have to give it up for the perfect simplicity of this gem from the New York Times op-ed page: “I’m a First Lady, and It’s an Incredibly Weird Job.”

What’s even better is that the essay, penned by Eliza Reid, the first lady of Iceland, lives up to its canny billing. Reid writes candidly about being cast in the role of the “genteel sidekick” to her powerful husband, fielding unsolicited comments about her clothing and appearance, and cringing at a recent Instagram post that shows her and a group of fellow first ladies gazing at the ocean during the G7—complete with caption, “The light side of the Force.”

“In 2019, can we not do better than presume the spouses of our leaders have nothing more worthwhile to do with their time than traipse after their other halves to sample wines, watch traditional dances and take in the view while their (almost exclusively) male counterparts take care of Serious Business?,” writes Reid. The role of her “husband’s handbag, to be snatched as he runs out the door and displayed silently by his side during public appearances”—can, understandably, become stifling, she explains. 

And so Reid has staged her own personal rebellions: writing and delivering her own speeches, continuing her pre-first lady career, declining to be involved in redecoration of the presidential residence. There’s something thrilling to Reid’s willingness to admit that she “resents” some aspects of the job she was thrust into when her husband was elected. How many times have you heard a politician or political spouse dare to name that emotion—no matter how often they must experience it?

Of course, one of the reasons the position of first lady has evolved in such a way is spelled out right there in the title—the spouses of the majority of world leaders have been and are women. If that weren’t the case, it’s hard to imagine that we’d automatically assign political spouses an interest in children and decorating, or assume that they’re demure and gentile. It’s possible that as the world (hopefully) continues to elect more and women leaders, our expectations of first partners will evolve. But until then, it seems likely to remain, well, an incredibly weird job.

Kristen Bellstom


– What would suck, Zuck? In leaked audio from Facebook staff meetings, CEO Mark Zuckerberg is heard saying that an Elizabeth Warren presidency would “suck for us [at Facebook].” The company would “go to the mat” to defend itself against Warren’s plan to break up big tech, he said. The Verge

– B-of-No Way. Bank of America will pay $4.2 million to settle allegations that it refused to hire women and black and Hispanic applicants for customer service, mortgage underwriter, and sales jobs in four states. The Department of Labor announced the settlement. Reuters

– Meghan vs. Mail. Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, is suing the Mail on Sunday‘s parent company over a private letter the paper published with what she says were misleading edits. (The Mail denies those claims.) The announcement of the lawsuit was accompanied by a scathing letter from Prince Harry criticizing tabloids’ treatment of Meghan: “My deepest fear is history repeating itself,” he says of how tabloid treatment of his wife has resembled the coverage of his mother, Princess Diana. CNN

– Normalizing breastfeeding. 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki is speaking out for fair treatment for breastfeeding moms after she was kicked out of an empty booth on a golf course while breastfeeding during an elite conference in Aspen last month. “I didn’t look like I was part of a fancy conference, not that it should have mattered,” Wojcicki said in an interview. Washington Post

MOVERS AND SHAKERS:  Ertharin Cousin, former director of the United Nations World Food Program, joins the board of Bayer. Beth Pasztor was named vice president of product and services safety at Boeing, overseeing a new internal organization responsible for safety. Intel promoted Sharon L. Heck to corporate vice president, treasurer, and chief tax officer. Coca-Cola’s Lone Thomsen joins Meatless Farm Co. as global CMO. Aero hired Uma Subramanian as CEO.


– Dangerous campaigns. Women running for local and departmental office in Colombia are facing gender-based violence. Mayoral candidate Karina García was found shot last month, and feminist groups say women are being targeted for running. Guardian

– A Fix for Stitch Fix. In its fourth-quarter earnings, Stitch Fix beat expectations slightly but saw shares slide 12%, although they recovered slightly. The company, led by CEO Katrina Lake, says its active client base grew 18% compared to last year to reach 3.2 million people. CNBC

– Sing it loud. Fortune‘s Ellen McGirt reflects on the life of soprano Jessye Norman, who died at 74 this week. Norman “won accolades while helping artists of color see a place for themselves in operatic and classical circles,” Ellen writes for our sister newsletter raceAhead (subscribe!). Fortune

– ‘Bearing witness.’ In three recent decisions made by the Supreme Court allowing death penalties to be carried out, only Justice Sonia Sotomayor has written opinions. Sotomayor “maintains a sort of vigil in the capital cases other justices treat as routine.” New York Times

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe. Share it with a friend. Looking for previous Broadsheets? Click here.


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“I felt it was the time in my life when I should take a gamble. Otherwise, when I was 40, I’d be having a nervous breakdown.”

-Debbie Harry on pursuing her music career with Blondie