Today is Barack Obama's 55th birthday. As a gift to us-- his constituency-- Obama penned a fierce, poignant essay on feminism, published by Glamour.
Obama starts out discussing what it's been like to watch his teenage girls grow up during the greatest era for them to be women, admitting his own self-identification as a feminist in the process: "That isn't always easy, either—watching them prepare to leave the nest. But one thing that makes me optimistic for them is that this is an extraordinary time to be a woman. The progress we've made in the past 100 years, 50 years, 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."
Then, he takes us through the recent history, how the job market to limit women to a select few poorly compensated options and how, today, women make up half the workforce-- including in science, the arts and law-- and are leading in every sector.
Obama references Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first African American to run for president, as an example of someone who has influenced his own feminism. He mentions how she got him to understand gender essentialism, how "the emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, 'It's a girl.' "
Beyond Chisholm, though, there have been many women in his life who've influenced his views on women and his politics, like his mom:
"I was raised by a single mom, who spent much of her career working to empower women in developing countries. I watched as my grandmother, who helped raise me, worked her way up at a bank only to hit a glass ceiling. I've seen how Michelle has balanced the demands of a busy career and raising a family," Obama writes.
And of, course, there's Michelle, who he credits for the work she's done to highlight feminism, especially for 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."
But I think the most necessary part of Obama's essay is when he points out how stereotypes of masculinity, and the societal pressures put on men to reinforce them, affected his "consciousness" when he was young:
Growing up without a dad, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out who I was, how the world perceived me, and what kind of man I wanted to be. It's easy to absorb all kinds of messages from society about masculinity and come to believe that there's a right way and a wrong way to be a man. But as I got older, I realized that my ideas about being a tough guy or cool guy just weren't me. They were a manifestation of my youth and insecurity. Life became a lot easier when I simply started being myself.
This essay should required reading for all, especially men who don't understand the moral imperative of supporting women and seeing us for who we are-- beyond gendered stereotyping and the toxicity of masculinity. Men have to be comfortable enough within themselves to be allies for women. A huge part of this is holding other men responsible for their behavior and understanding the ways that sexism has pervaded every aspect of modern consciousness.