Obama said we need to break through the limitations that gender standards place on society and change attitudes that permit the routine harassment of women.
In his essay for the women’s magazine, the US president commented on the progress made on gender equality in the last 100 years, remarking that we shouldn’t downplay how far we have come, but we still need to work hard to “improve the prospects of women and girls [in the US] and around the world”.
He said: “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. We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper and penalises working mothers.
“We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, that criticises 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 a culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of colour[…] It’s important for them to see role models out in the world who climb to the highest levels of whatever field they choose. And yes, it’s important [his daughters] see that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men.
“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.”
Obama also describes the sacrifices made by his wife, Michelle, expressing that women have always been the most important people in his life. He declared that men have a responsibility to “fight sexism too”. Gone are the days when women needed a husband to get a credit card but despite all our progress, we are still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave.
Obama goes on to mention Hilary Clinton’s remarkable feat in becoming the first woman presidential nominee for a major political party in the history of the country. He said: “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.”
He added: “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.
“And while I’ll keep working on good policies—from equal pay for equal work to protecting reproductive rights—there are some changes that have nothing to do with passing new laws. In fact, the most important change may be the toughest of all—and that’s changing ourselves.”
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