President Barack Obama penned a personal essay on the importance of feminism to Glamour, and it’s completely what we need to read in the ongoing fight for gender equality. A president outwardly calling themselves a feminist is a big deal, as it simply hasn’t been done before. In his personal essay, POTUS explains why he’s a feminist, much of it having to do with his wife Michelle and his two daughters, Sasha and Malia. Obama believes that “it’s important that their dad is a feminist because now that’s what they expect of all men.”
Why is feminism important? The answer is simple- it’s because the world is simply not equal for women. In America, there is still a wage gap separating the earnings of women and men working in the same field. There are also unfair expectations for women to be docile, maternal and domestic. Women who are bossy and assertive are condemned, and there is a significant gap of women in power holding positions in the business world. Women are also far less likely to have careers in science and math. Think about it. How many times have a male’s actions been excused because “boys will be boys” but society has been so oppressive to women that many are scared to leave their house at night dressed in a certain way.
Obama writes, “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.”
Advocating for social change in the perceptions of society by men and woman is an important legacy for Obama’s presidency. Not only does he wish to change the expectations of women, he hopes that men achieve balanced equality as well.
“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.”
Obama’s essay is hopeful and details how far women have come in the last century. Of course, he mentioned Hillary Clinton in this essay, as her presidential nomination is absolutely historic and groundbreaking.
Most importantly, Obama explained that men are also responsible for fighting against sexism. “As spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
In reference to his role as a father and husband, he self-reflectively acknowledges the difference in societal expectations about domestic duties, and how the burden of child rearing often fell on Michelle. “The reality was that when our girls were young, I was often away from home serving in the state legislature… 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.
Obama’s essay could not come at a more opportune time, particularly in response to recent criticism of his elder daughter, Malia. Malia is currently under scrutiny for not only skipping the Democratic National Convention but also for twerking at the Lollapalooza Music Festival. Some bloggers have outwardly shamed Malia for her actions.
Many people have been awaiting President Obama’s response to these criticisms, and this essay advocates for his belief in the equal treatment and expectations of women in society. As a feminist, he will not oppose to his daughter’s actions, and will strive for equality in the stereotypes of women.
Luckily, some Twitter users have taken to defending 18-year-old Malia.
Dear everyone attacking Malia Obama for going to Lolla during the DNC: I can't hear you over the sound of how dumb and petty you are.
— Carla Riseman (@ShesAllWrite) July 29, 2016
In my humble (and not at all biased feminist opinion) all dads and authority figures absolutely must read this essay. Having a POTUS acknowledge that equality laws aren’t enough and that society needs to change is a huge step in making an equal society. This change starts at a basic level, between a father and daughter, or between a husband and wife.