WASHINGTON, D.C. — Make no mistake: President Barack Obama gets it.
At the first-ever White House United State of Women Summit on Tuesday afternoon, Obama stood at a podium before an audience of nearly 5,000, looking a little conspicuous as one of the few men in the room. Yet the president was quick to clarify that in a room full of feminists, he fits in just fine.
"I know you're all here for Michelle ... but I did want to stop by and make one thing very clear," Obama said. "I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like."
The president went on to reflect on the opportunities that have opened in his lifetime not only for women, but for LGBTQ people and people of color. He repeatedly touted the role his administration has played in working toward gender equality.
But Obama also made it clear that he's not quite a lame duck yet, what with so much progress left to be made. During his speech, he rattled off a slew of initiatives his administration has championed, singling out paid family leave; creating opportunities for women in science, technology, engineering and math; and ending the pink tax — the charge companies add to products marketed toward women.
"If we're truly a nation of family values, we wouldn't put up with the fact that parents can't get a day off to give birth," Obama said, adding, "This is not about big government or expanding some fictional welfare and food stamps state, the 47% mooching off the government. It is accounting for the realities of how people live now, today."
But, he added, policy alone won't create a more equitable future; it's also going to require a deeper cultural change.
"If we're going to change our policies and our politics, we have to change something else: We have to change the way we see ourselves," Obama said.
We're still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave. We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, to criticize our daughters for speaking out and our sons for shedding a tear. We need to change the attitude that punishes women for their sexuality but gives men a pat on the back for theirs. We need to change an internet where women are routinely harassed and threatened when they go online. We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper — that stigmatizes full-time dads, penalizes working moms. We need to keep changing the attitude that prioritizes being confident and ambitious in the workplace — unless you're a woman. We need to keep changing the culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color.
Yeah, that's not just what a feminist looks like — it's what a feminist sounds like, too.