Yes, ‘first partner’ is eye-rollingly hokey, but ‘first lady’ is a relic

SACRAMENTO, CALIF. - JANUARY 07: California Governor Gavin Newsom, right, sits with his family: (L t
California Governor Gavin Newsom, right, sits with his family: (L to R) Montana, Hunter, Brooklynn, First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsome,and Dutch, during the inauguration ceremony on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019 in Sacramento, Calif.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Don’t call Jennifer Siebel Newsom California’s first lady. The wife of Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to be known as the “first partner.”

She debuted the term shortly after the November election, telling the Los Angeles Times that the term was more inclusive than the traditional title for a political wife. “I’m obviously a thought partner of his — and the main thought partner.”

This was no post-election sop to feminists. On Friday, the new title got an official imprimatur when Gov. Newsom announced the establishment of the Office of the First Partner, which has staff and a mission.

I know, I rolled my eyes at first, too. But then I felt bad about it, because for all the hokiness, First Partner Newsom’s effort to reimagine the archaic role she now inhabits is both sincere and welcome.


We were going to have to grapple with it sooner or later. The title of “first lady” is a relic of another era in which women played mere supporting roles in the halls of power. Its time has come and gone. And when the first female president is elected, “First gentleman” will seem just as outdated. (Todd, the husband of former vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, preferred “first dude,” but I can’t see that catching on.)

So why not “First Partner”?

Personally, I’d like to see the titles and offices of non-elected spouses retired altogether. If the spouses of governors and presidents want to take on side projects, good for them. But it should not be an obligation.

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