President Obama on the Importance of Being a Feminist Father to His Daughters

© Provided by TIME Inc.
© Provided by TIME Inc.

Move over, Justin Trudeau – it’s time for President Barack Obama to have his feminist moment in the spotlight.

The president, who celebrated his 55th birthday on Thursday, wrote a powerful essay for Glamour titled “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like,” in which he explained why he feels compelled to fight for women’s rights – as a man, a husband and a father.

“Michelle and I have raised our daughters to speak up when they see a double standard or feel unfairly judged based on their gender or race – or when they notice that happening to someone else,” Obama wrote of his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia and Sasha. “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 that their dad is a feminist, because now that’s what they expect of all men.”

The president noted that while the feminist movement has made a lot of progress over the past 100 years, it still has a long way to go. And the most “important change,” he wrote, “may be the toughest of all – and that’s changing ourselves.”

He continued, “As far as we’ve come, all too often we are still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave … We know that these stereotypes affect how girls see themselves starting at a very young age, making them feel that if they don’t look or act a certain way, they are somehow less worthy. In fact, gender stereotypes affect all of us, regardless of our gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

The president went on to describe how such stereotypes and discrimination have impacted the lives of the important women in his own world, from his grandmother, to his mother, to his wife. He also described how his journey as a feminist has evolved and grown over the years, particularly after the birth of his two daughters.

I “have to admit that when you’re the father of two daughters, you become even more aware of how gender stereotypes pervade our society,” he wrote. “You see the subtle and not-so-subtle social cues transmitted through culture. You feel the enormous pressure girls are under to look and behave and even think a certain way.”

The president said the responsibility falls on all of us – including men – to fight the pervasive sexism that women face every single day.

“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.”

“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.’ ”

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Source: PEOPLE | Tierney McAfee, @tierneymcafee