politics

What does the First Lady do all day - and should she be paid for it?

Our collective obsession with the First Lady of the USA predates our current admiration for Michelle Obama and our, well, conflicting feelings about Melania Trump.

First ladies like Hillary Clinton, Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt have played a huge role in political and pop culture history.

They’ve become icons and role models, and some have even gone on to have their own political careers.

The FLOTUS has always been in the public eye, but Melania Trump’s noticeable absence from the White House has people asking: what does the First Lady do all day, anyway?

The answer is pretty simple – she works a full-time job and doesn’t get paid for it.

It’s the ultimate ‘women’s work’ that doesn’t come with a pay cheque.

first lady salary
First ladies are expected to perform public and ceremonial duties. Image via Getty.

When a new President is sworn in his wife takes on the 'office of honour' role of the First Lady — which Jennifer Weiner described in a recent New York Times column as "fancy for 'you’ll get nothing and like it'."

Weiner says it's a job few would sign up for.

"We’ve expected our first ladies to do it all, without benefit of a paycheck, or even a budget for clothing," she writes.

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Basically, first ladies are expected to perform public and ceremonial duties. While they've always hosted state dinners and other official events, now they also serve as surrogates to their husbands' administrations, taking on particular social projects or causes.

Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team on why we need to stop mocking Melania Trump. (Post continues after audio.)

Michelle Obama was active in the role, working on the issues of childhood obesity, girls' education and military families.

Laura Bush championed education efforts, while Hillary Clinton focused on health initiatives and women's equality.

Yes, they have a staff (of around 15 people, though the exact number varies) and an office budget so they can funnel funds into their social causes, but the first ladies don't get paid a cent for their time.

We only see a small snippet of their lives and we have no idea how hard they're really working behind the scenes.

But some first ladies, and even some presidents, have spoken up about the world's biggest wage gap in the past.

first lady salary
Being First Lady is a full-time role. (Getty)
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First lady Pat Nixon called it "the hardest unpaid job in the world", and Ronald Reagan commented on how hard his wife Nancy worked in 1982: "You know, with the first lady the government gets an employee free; they have her just about as busy as they have me."

In 2015 when President Obama was pushing for legislation intended to help close the pay gap between men and women he made note of the White House's very own pay gap.

“Michelle would point out first ladies get paid nothing, so there’s clearly not equal pay in the White House when it comes to her and me.”

Weiner argues the American government has been taking its first ladies for granted. And time will tell whether a 'first gentleman' would do all this work for free.

And weirdly, it seems Melania Trump might be the feminist hero she never intended to be.

With Melania refusing to move into the White House and take on the tasks of the First Lady, the US government might have to hire some more staff - and pay them - to fulfill the role's unpaid duties.

As Weiner puts it: "'Free Melania'? If she’s willing to do the work, let’s pay her instead".

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