As President Barrack Obama’s term in office draws to a close, it’s almost inevitable that thoughts turn to his legacy. For some, the fact that he is and always will be the first African-American President will remain his most lasting achievement. Others will rifle through endless streams of statistics; some spun one way, some another.
Opponents will decry his achievements; supporters will applaud them. Some will wish he did more, others, that he had done less. Few will deny that he is the first American President to openly describe himself as a feminist.
Yet for the president himself, it would seem his legacy is one closer to home, one more personal and for him at least, more compelling. In an interview with Glamour Magazine, President Obama discussed his other job, his role as father to two young daughters.
President and Feminist
He described watching his daughters grow into smart, wonderful young women and admitted that he was filled with optimism for their future during what he described as an extraordinary time to be a woman.
“The Progress we have made,” he said, “in the past 100, 50 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.”
While noting the considerable achievements of women in recent years, he was still cautious about sounding too triumphant.
“We shouldn’t downplay how far we’ve come. That would do a disservice to all those who spent their lives fighting for justice. At the same time, there’s still a lot of work we need to do to improve the prospects of women and girls here and around the world. And while I’ll keep working on good policies—from equal pay for equal work to protecting reproductive rights.”
Change Must Come From Within
The President warned that change had to come from within and that we must not remain boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave. In a similar vein, he reflected on the fact that the most important people in his life had always been women.
He recalled his early years, raised by a single mom. Later, he watched as his wife struggled to balance the twin demands of career and family. With regret, he acknowledged the unfairness of how the burden had fallen mostly on Michelle’s shoulders.
The Consolidation Of Past Gains
The President adopted a hopeful tone as he listed broad areas of change that needed addressing if the gains of past years were to be consolidated.
“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 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.”
The Need For New Attitudes
He was also at pains to stress the need to question stereotypes and steer clear of too often overlooked double standards in order to:
“Keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatized 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.”
Lastly, he spared a few moments to discuss the additional challenges facing women of color.
“We need to keep changing a culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color. Michelle has often spoken about this. Even after achieving success in her own right, she still held doubts; she had to worry about whether she looked the right way or was acting the right way—whether she was being too assertive or too angry.”
The Good News
President Obama ended the interview with what he described as the good news, that everywhere he went, he saw people pushing back against dated assumptions about gender roles.
“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. And you’re helping all of us understand that forcing people to adhere to outmoded, rigid notions of identity isn’t good for anybody—men, women, gay, straight, transgender, or otherwise. These stereotypes limit our ability to simply be ourselves.”