Obama on Feminism: 'When Everybody Is Equal, We Are All More Free'

President urges Americans to fight gender stereotypes in heartfelt essay

President Barack Obama called on Americans to fight gender stereotypes and sexism in an ardent, heartfelt essay on feminism. Credit: Drew Angerer-Pool/Getty

President Barack Obama called on Americans to keep changing the culture and attitudes that allow gender stereotypes and sexism to exist in a passionate essay on feminism for Glamour.

In the piece, Obama reflected on his time in office as a husband and father, watching his daughters, Sasha and Malia, grow up in what he called "an extraordinary time to be a woman. The progress we've made in the past 100 years, 50 years, and, yes, even the past eight years has made life significantly better for my daughters than it was for my grandmothers. And I say that not just as president but also as a feminist."

But Obama was still frank about the numerous obstacles women still face — including equal pay for equal work and attacks on reproductive rights — and how pervasive gender stereotypes affect everyone regardless of gender, gender identity or sexual orientation. The president admitted his own blind spots too, like how the burden of parenting "disproportionately and unfairly fell on Michelle" while he worked as a law professor and Illinois state senator. He also discussed how masculine stereotypes affected his own development as a young man growing up without a father.

"So we need to break through these limitations," Obama wrote. "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."

Obama also specifically called for a change in the culture "that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color." Speaking of Michelle, he wrote, "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 urged parents to help their children see these stereotypes and perceived norms, and rise above them, and also noted the responsibility of all men to fight sexism. In closing, Obama pointed out the historic nature of the 2016 presidential election, in which Hillary Clinton has become the first woman ever to be a major party's nominee.

"I want all of our daughters and sons to see that this, too, is their inheritance. I want them to know that it's never been just about the Benjamins; it's about the Tubmans too. 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."

Read Obama's full essay at Glamour.