Barack Obama: first African-American president, proponent of gay marriage, impromptu stage crooner, feminist. In June, President Obama made waves when he declared himself a feminist, confirming the hopeful suspicions we've held for years.
Obama's belief in gender equality doesn't come as much of a surprise. The policies his administration has pushed are reflective of that: from the first piece of legislation he signed as president, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, to his continued efforts at increasing girls and women's engagement in STEM fields.
So it is fitting, then, that on his 55th birthday, Glamour published an essay Obama wrote on feminism. In it, the president expounds on how his own experience as the son of a single mom, the husband to a strong, driven woman, and the father of two girls shaped his views on gender in society.
Obama wrote of America's progress on leveling the playing field for women on the policy front, but reminded readers of the most important, and perhaps toughest, change of all — a change in attitudes.
"As far as we've come, all too often we are still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave," he wrote, noting how raising his daughters has made him hyper-aware of gender stereotypes, but also conceding that they influenced his own consciousness as a young man.
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. We need to keep changing the attitude that permits the routine harassment of women, whether they're walking down the street or daring to go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that teaches men to feel threatened by the presence and success of women.
"We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full-time dads, and penalizes working mothers. We need to keep changing the attitude that values being confident, competitive, and ambitious in the workplace — unless you're a woman. Then you're being too bossy, and suddenly the very qualities you thought were necessary for success end up holding you back," Obama wrote.
"We need to keep changing a culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color. Michelle has often spoken about this. Even after achieving success in her own right, she still held doubts; she had to worry about whether she looked the right way or was acting the right way — whether she was being too assertive or too 'angry.'"
Obama also gave a special shout-out to Hillary Clinton's historic nomination. "Two hundred and forty years after our nation's founding, and almost a century after women finally won the right to vote, for the first time ever, a woman is a major political party's presidential nominee," he wrote. "No matter your political views, this is a historic moment for America. And it's just one more example of how far women have come on the long journey toward equality."
I want all of our daughters and sons to see that this, too, is their inheritance... And I want them to help do their part to ensure that America is a place where every single child can make of her life what she will. That's what twenty-first century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.
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