Listen to Michelle Obama: You have a voice, ladies

 
Updated 11/14/2018 5:46 PM
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  • Oprah Winfrey introduces former first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday night during the kickoff event for Obama's new book, "Becoming," at the United Center.

    Oprah Winfrey introduces former first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday night during the kickoff event for Obama's new book, "Becoming," at the United Center. Ashlee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times

  • Heather Ritter

    Heather Ritter

I am a 45-year-old white woman who grew up on the far Northwest Side of Chicago and moved to the suburbs. I am a successful business professional who has posters on her office wall honoring the suffragette era.

I have voted both Democratic and Republican and am married with two teenagers.

I think I've got my life pretty well figured out. Nonetheless, I decided to spend my Tuesday night being inspired by former first lady Michelle Obama as she launched her book tour at the United Center.

I treated my soon-to-be 70-year-old mother to a ticket, mainly because she is a huge fan of the Obamas. But I also took her so she can see and hear firsthand how far women have come. Here we were, two generations with very different experiences as women watching two successful women of color with 14,000 of our closest friends.

Unless you understand the female perspective, it's hard to appreciate the symbolism of that.

Imagine being a woman of color in that audience. Imagine being a teenage girl of color. It gives me the chills.

Don't misunderstand. We, as women, are not inspired merely by Michelle Obama, the former first lady. The unknown Michelle Obama was a force before her address was Pennsylvania Avenue. That's whose story we wanted told.

Anecdotes about life in the White House are fun, but that's not what the crowd was there to hear.

In many ways, her interview with Oprah Winfrey was what you would expect: a discussion about her life on the South Side, her intellect, her drive to succeed, and, of course, her relationship with her husband.

You heard the inspirational quotes "When they go low, we go high" and "It's hard to hate up close." But as the title of her book implies, "Becoming" is about how to become your best self by taking your experiences, no matter how innocuous, and using them to shape who you are and who you are to become.

And what that means is we, as women -- as humans -- are responsible for making it happen.

Michelle Obama assured us by saying, "Just because they are at the board room table doesn't mean they are smarter than you. You don't know how they got there."

In other words, you have a voice, ladies, so speak up. You have something valuable to say.

However, the fact that the arena was filled mostly with women told me we have a ways to go, that we are still seeking answers and guidance.

More men should have been there, too, not simply to understand the perspective of a woman of color but how men, too, can use what she had to say to contribute to their own successes.

Perhaps I'll see that when my daughter takes me to a similar event 25 years from now.

• Heather Ritter is vice president/director of human resources for Paddock Publications, the parent company of the Daily Herald.

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