President of the United States, Barack Obama, has written a poignant essay on feminism, appealing to men to join the fight for gender equality.
The 1,500 word write, penned for US Glamour, is not a political manifesto, but a personal piece that reflects strongly on Obama’s own life, and the history of women’s fight for equal rights.
The President begins his essay by referencing the progress women have made, saying:
“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.”
But the job isn’t done, he says, and there’s still a long way to go.
In order to make these changes, Obama says, it is us that need to change, and gender stereotypes that need to be erased.
The President discusses the women that have shaped his own feminist values, opening up about the important roles women have played within his life - having been brought up by a single mother, with the aid of his grandmother.
He then goes on to a glowing admiration for his wife, Michelle:
“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.”
But he admits that while he was able to be a father and pursue a career he could do so, judgement free, as a man, while Michelle was faced with added pressures.
“I can look back now,” he continues, “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.”
The biggest factor in making him aware of the importance of feminism, though, was having daughters:
“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.”
The President ends his essay with a series of bold statements about how, in order for things to change, we must begin to corrode the barriers that women are faced with when it comes to sexuality:
“We need to keep changing the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality and rewards men for theirs.”
And when it comes to, harassment, parenting and even work:
“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.”
He writes that these discriminations are faced even more so by women of colour.
Finally, in a powerful call to arms, Obama says that it is “absolutely men’s responsibility to fight sexism too.
“And as spouses and partners and boyfriends, we need to work hard and be deliberate about creating truly equal relationships.”
Celebrating the election of Hillary Clinton as democratic presidential nominee, the President says that whatever your political views, it’s an enormous historical landmark, and one of many examples of the progress women have made.
Finally, the essay ends with the poignant statement that “That’s what twenty-first century feminism is about: the idea that when everybody is equal, we are all more free.”
The essay is the most forthright declaration the American President has made in support of the feminist movement, and comes soon after his declaration at a White House summit, of: “This is what a feminist looks like.”
Read the full essay here.