Nightly News   |  October 21, 2009

Obama: Men still 'obtuse' about women's role

Oct. 21: In an interview about women's changing role in our society, President Barack Obama acknowledges that the burdens that befall working mothers still outweigh those faced by men. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> pete, thanks.

>>> now to our exclusive reporting this week on women in american society . a groundbreaking new study on the slow but steady shift in gender roles in a lot of families. today president obama spoke exclusively to our white house correspondent, savannah guthrie about the project we are calling "a woman's nation," led by the first lady of california, a long-time former member of our nbc family, maria shriver . the president also revealed some of his latest thinking on a large, looming decision. savannah guthrie with us tonight from the white house . savannah, good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. as you said, we did talk about the shriver report, but we started with afghanistan. the question, whether he can really make a decision about sending more troops there without knowing the results of the runoff elections .

>> but we also want to make sure that we don't put resources ahead of strategy.

>> could you envision, however, announcing a strategy before the runoff is determined?

>> i think it is entirely possible that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff is determined. we may not announce it.

>> reporter: our interview began with afghanistan. but the president sat down with us primarily to talk about "the shriver report" and its finding that a workforce that's half women changes everything.

>> when i think about policy, i'm constantly thinking about how can we strengthen families, how can we provide more resources, greater flexibility so that women can thrive, because i think if women are thriving everybody's going to be thriving.

>> reporter: for the president that woman's nation starts at home.

>> you go home, and you're basically outnumbered, right?

>> i'm surrounded.

>> it is women everywhere.

>> it's me and bo.

>> reporter: the president said he can relate to what the report calls the negotiation between the sexes.

>> today's obama family is obviously not typical. five years ago, six years ago, though, we were having a lot of negotiations because michelle was trying to figure out, okay, if the kids get sick, why is it that she's the one who has to take time off of her job to go pick them up from school as opposed to me. what i've tried to do was to learn to be thoughtful enough and introspective enough that i wasn't always having to be told that things were unfair. but you know, there's no doubt that our family, like a lot of families out there, were ones in which the men are still a little obtuse about this stuff and --

>> how are you --

>> -- need to be knocked across the head every once in a while in terms of making sure that everybody is treated fairly.

>> do you feel like you had to come to that recognition?

>> absolutely. and look, the truth is is that michelle still had to make sacrifices of the sort that i did not have to make.

>> reporter: mr. obama won the female vote handily and has put women in high places in his administration and the supreme court . the first bill he signed, a pay discrimination law . but the president drew criticism from some women recently. we asked about that basketball game he hosted for congressmen and cabinet secretaries on the official presidential schedule, but no women invited.

>> you could say this was just a game. you might say it was a networking opportunity with the president or some kind of political activity. and i guess i just wonder, what happened there? some people might look at that and say gosh, there's the old boys' club again.

>> i've got to say i think this is bunk. basically, the house of representatives , they have a regular basketball game. and they had wanted to play here at the white house court. and we invited them. you know, i don't think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever.

>> so you don't buy this notion that it's something more than basketball?

>> absolutely not.

>> reporter: well, the president says he gives a lot of thought to whether the women who work here in the white house feel they're being heard, whether there are those persistent subtle biases still around, but he acknowledges this is a work in progress , brian.

>> savannah guthrie at the white house today. a very interesting conversation. we wanted to let you know, we've posted the entire thing on our website, nightly.msnbc.com.