President Obama’s Feminist Essay In ‘Glamour’ Shows How Far He’s Come

You don’t have to love all of his policies, but President Obama’s feminist essay in Glamour is just one more reason I for one will miss having a president like him, even if he’s replaced by a woman. I know that sounds crazy, but I can be excited about the possibility of having a female president and still miss Obama. There’s something refreshing about hearing a man who has been surrounded by strong women all of his life talk about being a feminist that gets me going. There are lots of points in the essay that are sort of obvious, but one of the most poignant, in my opinion, is how Obama admits that his own male gender and identity have played into his wife’s and daughter’s experiences as women.

He writes that when he was working as a senator and commuting back forth, he was a present father but wasn’t there all around, simply because didn’t have to be because of how society carves out gender roles. Obama writes, “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.” There’s something so satisfying about watching a man throw his arms up and say, “Crap, that’s so fucked up,” about his own past behavior.

He makes a lot of standard feminist points, as he has throughout his presidency, but his acknowledgement that he is raising women of color to speak up for themselves is also something everyone needs to hear right now. As a white woman, I worry about how I “sound” to men and the rest of the world, but having to consider being too “angry,” as Obama describes Michelle’s experience, is a whole other layer of bullshit.

I know the world is basically on fire — but an American president asking me to check my white privilege and talk about “angry black women” tropes makes me get all patriotic inside. Like, thank you Obama, for never pretending everything is perfect, because it’s not. But it’s not a total wash. Admitting the problem is always the first step, right?

And that’s pretty much the state of feminism right now, too. There’s a lot of ground to be covered, even if the president is penning essays on his feminist values. Malia Obama was just spotted hiking up her skirt and dancing at Lollapalooza this week and the conversation was about what was “appropriate” for a teen girl, especially the president’s daughter, to be doing out in public. That’s crap.

There’s a female candidate for president and the criticisms of her usually surround her tone of voice or how she’s a bit of a “hawk.” We wouldn’t talk about a man like that. A man would just be “tough” and that would be a pro, not a con. That’s also crap. Obama gets it, writing:

“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.”

Women are going to have to listen to a lot of bullshit in the coming months leading up to the election, much like we always  have to listen to a lot of bullshit, so this essay is a nice way to take the pulse of where feminism and women’s rights really are. My only beef with Obama’s essay is that it was in Glamour, which means he’s preaching to the choir. I applaud a president whose staff takes the time to make sure his feminism is on display, but if it were on page one of The New York Times or in a primetime speech, I’d be more likely to give it a standing ovation.