The beauty of President Obama's essay on feminism
“I’d like to think that I’ve been pretty aware of the unique challenges women face — it’s what has shaped my own feminism,” he wrote.
The most powerful man in the world is a feminist. It’s a simple declaration that Barack Obama explained in an essay for Glamour, where he explains what shapes his views.
Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx Talk on feminism was sampled on Beyonce’s song “Flawless,” giving an anthem to the movement for a new swath of people. It’s great that influential women like Beyoncé identify as feminist, but it’s just as important that men (and highly visible ones, at that) demonstrate their understanding that the essence of feminism is equality, and we equally shoulder the burden to achieve it. Here’s seven reasons Obama’s essay was so beautiful.
1. He acknowledged his male privilege.
“I’ve seen how Michelle has balanced the demands of a busy career and raising a family,” he wrote. “Like many working mothers, she worried about the expectations and judgments of how she should handle the trade-offs, knowing that few people would question my choices. And the reality was that when our girls were young, I was often away from home serving in the state legislature, while also juggling my teaching responsibilities as a law professor. I can look back now and see that, while I helped out, it was usually on my schedule and on my terms. The burden disproportionately and unfairly fell on Michelle.”
2. He snuck in a quick history lesson.
Because while Hillary Clinton’s nomination is important, it was Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm, whom he called one of his “heroines,” who was the first woman to run for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination. She paved the way for Obama by also being the first African-American to run for a major party’s presidential nomination.
3. He recognized that the most important people in his life have been women, and that proximity made him aware of the challenges women face.
Barack said his own feminism was shaped by being raised by a single mother and a grandmother who could only rise so far in her job at a bank, as well as seeing his wife balance career and family. As most men can likely point to the strong influence of women in their lives, what’s stopping them from acknowledging that those women deserve equal treatment? It’s not that hard to be a feminist, guys.
4. He addressed the fact that cultural attitudes dictating that people behave a certain way according to gender is harmful to men and women.
“Those same stereotypes affected my own consciousness as a young man,” Obama wrote. “Growing up without a dad, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was, how the world perceived me, and what kind of man I wanted to be. It’s easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a man.”
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He directly spoke to society’s harmful double standards, saying, “So we need to break through these limitations. We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticizes our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs.
5. He explained that fathering two girls has made him especially sensitive to the pressures women face and that the example he sets by identifying as a feminist will make sure his daughters expect the same from all men.
“But I also have to admit that when you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society. You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.” (See, you can become a feminist at any point in your life!)
6. He was clear that is is “absolutely” men’s responsibility to fight sexism too.
“As spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships. … That’s what twenty-first century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.”
7. And he acknowledged that all the legislation in the world won’t change our collective mindset, which is the crux of the problem.
“And while I’ll keep working on good policies — from equal pay for equal work to protecting reproductive rights — there are some changes that have nothing to do with passing new laws. In fact, the most important change may be the toughest of all — and that’s changing ourselves.”
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