Obama Pens Unapologetically Feminist Open Letter

"The most important people in my life have always been women."

By Eric Shorey

It is absolutely ridiculous that it is now controversial when a person self-identifies as a feminist, but this is the post-Trump Mad Max apocalyptic political climate we've found ourselves in. Luckily, Barack Obama is in his out-of-f*cks-to-give portion of his presidency and decided to detonate a rhetorical nuke bomb in an open letter published by Glamour. This is certainly one way to piss off Republicans.

Obama's piece covers a wide range of overtly feminist issues while explaining his personal commitment to feminism as an ideological lens and his identity as a feminist. He starts with the vast accomplishments that feminism has wrought :

"In my lifetime we’ve gone from a job market that basically confined women to a handful of often poorly paid positions to a moment when women not only make up roughly half the workforce but are leading in every sector, from sports to space, from Hollywood to the Supreme Court. I’ve witnessed how women have won the freedom to make your own choices about how you’ll live your lives—about your bodies, your educations, your careers, your finances. Gone are the days when you needed a husband to get a credit card. In fact, more women than ever, married or single, are financially independent," he writes.

He then moves on to explain the strength of the women in his own experiences:

"Now, the most important people in my life have always been women. 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. 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. And the reality was that when our girls were young, I was often away from home serving in the state legislature, while also juggling my teaching responsibilities as a law professor. 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 also discussed gendered stereotypes and his own daughters:

"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. 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."

And concluded on a note of hopefulness on the upcoming election:

"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. 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."

This is not the first time Obama has expressed unabashedly feminist sentimenits, nor is it the first time he has identified as a feminist. At a summit in June, POTUS embraced the "This is What A Feminist Looks Like" meme and declared his commitment to gender equality.

Reactions to the Glamour article have been largely positive, but Jezebel writer Stassa Edwards astutely notes some problems with the screed. Calling the rhetoric of Obama symptomatic of a recent trend of "dad feminism" (by which older men can only relate to feminist goals via their relationship to their daughters), she commented: "The piece is fine and there’s very little for men or women to disagree with: gender stereotypes are, indeed, bad," she writes.

"The nature of [this] appeal strikes as outmoded as the very gender stereotypes he addresses," she continued. "Maybe it’s an acceptable way for men to state their feminism, to frame it as one of their many sacrifices as parents and thus reshape feminism as a familial work, stripping it of its radical roots and progressive ideology. But there’s a limited appeal here, one that reinforces women’s worth as deeply interdependent on domesticity."

You can read Obama's full article over here.


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