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President Obama once again declared himself a feminist and said men have a responsibility to fight for gender equality, too.
In a personal essay for Glamour magazine published Thursday, Obama highlighted the need for a cultural shift as well as policy change to achieve gender equality. He even touched on his own experience with gender roles, acknowledging the imbalance of parental duties that fell on his wife, Michelle, when he was a senator in Illinois.
“And the reality was that when our girls were young, I was often away from home serving in the state legislature, while also juggling my teaching responsibilities as a law professor. 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.”
He also said he hopes that today’s generation of children will learn “that it’s never been just about the Benjamins; it’s about the Tubmans too” -- alluding to the Treasury Department’s April announcement that abolitionist Harriet Tubman will appear on the front of $20 bills by 2020.
During his time at the White House, Obama has worked to create policies addressing equal pay for women, continuously defended abortion rights and helped increase access to birth control by expanding insurance coverage to 18 types of contraception through the Affordable Care Act. He also launched the first White House summit on women this summer, where he also proclaimed “this is what a feminist looks like.”
“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,” he wrote in the Glamour essay. “In fact, the most important change may be the toughest of all—and that’s changing ourselves.”
Attitudes shaping girls to be “demure” and boys to be “assertive” must continue to change, he wrote. He also touched on the need to push back on the double standard that women are punished for their sexuality and men are praised for theirs, while women also continue to face harassment on the streets and online.
Women and girls of color are also held under a particularly “unforgiving light,” something Obama said he’s learned from Michelle Obama as she has previously noted that she has worried about her behavior in public, and whether she is “too assertive or too ‘angry.’”
But President Obama is still optimistic about the progress he’s seen for women’s equality during his lifetime, including Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination as the Democratic candidate for president.
“The good news is that everywhere I go across the country, and around the world, I see people pushing back against dated assumptions about gender roles,” he wrote. “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.”