Dear Michelle, count me in

The Denver Post - - PERSPECTIVE - By Mario Ni­co­lais

Dear First Lady Michelle Obama: I heard you loud and clear. When I watched from the au­di­ence with my wife, Lori, I heard you. As I sat next to my high school English teacher, Kather­ine, and her hus­band — the proud par­ents of your for­mer staff mem­ber Franny — your voice was clear. As I looked around at the many women, par­tic­u­larly the young women who came with moth­ers and grand­moth­ers, I saw your words res­onate in each of their faces.

Too many of our moth­ers, daugh­ters, sis­ters, wives, and friends have been sub­ject to de­grad­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal “cuts” sim­i­lar to those you en­dured. Count me in to stand be­side you and yell stop.

Ear­lier this year, I sur­prised Lori with tick­ets to your con­ver­sa­tion with the al­ways im­pres­sive Lau­ren Cas­teel to cel­e­brate the 30th An­niver­sary of the Women’s Foun­da­tion of Colorado. While I once worked as a se­nior an­a­lyst for a pres­i­den­tial ri­val to your hus­band, I knew my wife would be over-the-moon ex­cited. She loves your style, she loves your easy grace, and she loves your charm­ing wit. She loves watch­ing you de­liver pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ments dur­ing Jimmy Fal­lon skits. But most of all, she loves you for be­ing gen­uine and re­lat­ing to her as a woman.

When you de­scribed call­ing a few of your friends to spend sev­eral days eat­ing healthy, talk­ing, do­ing a few work­outs, re­lax­ing, and talk­ing even more, my wife whis­pered “just like me and my net” of friends. You con­nected to her; you con­nected to ev­ery woman and girl in that crowd.

That con­nec­tion tore at my heart­strings when you ex­plained that as women “we en­dure those cuts in so many ways that we don’t even no­tice we’re cut. We are liv­ing with small tiny cuts, and we are bleed­ing ev­ery sin­gle day. And we’re still get­ting up.” Each time you said “we” I saw that con­nec­tion in the women sit­ting around me. I saw recog­ni­tion and brief flashes of their own sto­ries sweep­ing around them. As much as your words, their re­ac­tion af­fected me pro­foundly.

Less than a week later a lo­cal po­lit­i­cal blog re-posted a Face­book thread be­tween sev­eral po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists den­i­grat­ing you in an es­ca­lat­ing se­ries of foul, misog­y­nis­tic, and racist com­ments. Not just a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual, but a group openly com­pet­ing to make the most re­pul­sive state­ment. As you said, those com­ments hurt the most be­cause they are in­tended to hurt the most. They made me phys­i­cally sick.

As my stom­ach twisted, I wanted to lash out at these per­ver­sions of hu­man­ity. I wanted to si­lence them, to make them small, even smaller than their words al­ready did. I wanted to make them dis­ap­pear. By at­tack­ing you, they at­tacked my wife, my teacher, my friend, and ev­ery other woman in that arena. They cut all the women I care for and love.

Iron­i­cally, the con­ver­sa­tion arose out of a mal­formed at­tempt to de­fend cur­rent First Lady Me­la­nia Trump. By all ac­counts, she is an ac­com­plished woman as well. But she can­not be built up by tear­ing you down. In fact, the per­sonal at­tacks on you only serve to con­struct a world where she will be more vul­ner­a­ble, not less. A world where lo­cal ra­dio hosts grope in­ter­na­tional pop stars, car deal­ers en­gage in hu­man traf­fick­ing, and one in three women is a vic­tim of do­mes­tic or sex­ual vi­o­lence.

Go talk to any district at­tor­ney or pros­e­cu­tor in the state. Words that cut lay the ground­work for ac­tual bruises and scars. And three times ev­ery day in Amer­ica, that ground­work costs a woman her life.

I will al­ways stand by the women in my life. Stand­ing along­side you and any other women the world threat­ens to cut? Count me in.

Mario Ni­co­lais is an at­tor­ney and writes col­umns on law en­force­ment, the le­gal sys­tem, and pub­lic pol­icy. Fol­low him @Mar­i­on­i­co­laiesq

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