We already knew Obama was a feminist—he told us so, earlier this summer at The United States of Women Summit, where he also called for income equality after comparing America and some of its policies to Mad Men. Now, in an essay for Glamour, the President discusses his feminism and how it’s been shaped by watching his grandmother, mother, daughters and Michelle navigate the world through all the difficulties that women face.
“The most important people in my life have always been women,” he writes. “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. I’ve seen how Michelle has balanced the demands of a busy career and raising a family. […] So 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.”
Obama continues by acknowledging how fatherhood has heightened his awareness of the societal pressures placed on women. Continuing his discourse on gender stereotypes, the President reflects on his own upbringing—how being the child of a single mother, without a father, affected his feelings about himself and the way society perceived him. And after acknowledging the progress our country has made, he reiterates the amount of work still left to be done. As a father preparing for his daughters to “leave the nest,” Obama wants to make sure they will have the same opportunities he did as a young man.
He writes: “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.
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.”
Before closing, Obama takes the opportunity to campaign for Hillary, urging voters to show their daughters they can be president, too. He also stresses the importance of fighting inequality, for both men and women, in order to create a world where girls of any race can succeed.
“It is absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too,” he argues. “And 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.”