President Obama Writes Powerful Op-Ed on Feminism, Raising His Daughters: 'This is What a Feminist Looks Like'
By Jennifer Drysdale
Photo: Getty Images
With today being his 55th birthday -- and his last one in office -- President Barack Obama certainly has a lot to reflect on, but it is his daughters that he clearly can't get off his mind.
The father of two opened up in a special op-ed for Glamour magazine on his hopes for Sasha and Malia as they prepare to "leave the nest," and it’s even more heartfelt and powerful than you can imagine.
"There are a lot of tough aspects to being President. But there are some perks too," Obama began his essay. "Perhaps the greatest unexpected gift of this job has been living above the store," he writes, explaining that his daily commute to the Oval Office clocks in at about 45 seconds.
"As a result, I've been able to spend a lot more time watching my daughters grow up into smart, funny, kind, wonderful young women," he says of 15-year-old Sasha, who just got her first summer job, and 18-year-old Malia, who will be heading off to Harvard. "That isn't always easy, either -- watching them prepare to leave the nest. But one thing that makes me optimistic for them is that this is 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," Obama explains.
"I've witnessed how women have won the freedom to make your choices about how you'll live your lives -- about your bodies, your educations, your careers, your finances," he adds. "At the same time, there's still a lot we need to do to improve the prospects of women and girls here and around the world."
"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," he states. "As far as we’ve come, all too often we are still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave."
The president goes on to mention his time at the first-ever White House Summit on the United State of Women in June, and what he had learned about the "emotional, sexual, and psychological" stereotyping of women. "Gender stereotypes affect all of us, regardless of our gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation," he notes.
"The most important people in my life have always been women," he admits. "I was raised by a single mom, who spent much of her career working to empower women in developing countries. I watched as my grandmother, who helped raise me, worked her way up at a bank only to hit a glass ceiling."
The stress on his wife, Michelle, isn't lost on Obama either: "I've seen how Michelle has balanced the demands of a busy career and raising a family. 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."
"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," he says. "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."
"It's important that their dad is a feminist," the commander in chief insists, "because now that's what they expect of all men."
"The good news is that everywhere I go across the country, and around the world, I see people pushing back against dated assumptions about gender roles," he continues. "From the young men who've joined our It's On Us campaign to end campus sexual assault, to the young women who became the first female Army Rangers in our nation’s history, your generation refuses to be bound by old ways of thinking."
Obama also recognizes Hillary Clinton's historic achievement, and the election to come. "For the first time ever, a woman is a major political party's presidential nominee. 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," he concludes. "That's what twenty-first century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free."