Obama's The Most Feminist President In History

by Kylie Cheung

Here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, we've had some pretty great presidents, and we've also had some pretty not-so-great presidents. It's difficult to believe how many administrations had to come and go before a president put his foot down against slavery, the lynching of blacks, or even acknowledged homosexuality or rape on college campuses. The push for nationalized health care plans like Obamacare dates back to the presidency of Harry Truman in the 1940s, while the idea of marriage equality becoming the law of the land only began to gain momentum during Obama's presidency. From his consistent support for abortion rights and campus anti-rape initiatives to his role in the legalization of gay marriage, we could easily consider Obama the most feminist president in U.S. history.

Feminism is highly inclusive. It protests the notion of heterosexual white men's superiority to different types of people by supporting civil rights, women's rights, LGBT rights, equal access to education and health care, economic equality, and criminal justice reform. Although previous administrations have certainly made some progress, under Obama, all of these causes have seen more victories than under nearly all of Obama's predecessors combined.

Women's Rights

Under Past Administrations


Following World War I, under Wilson's administration, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution made a woman's right to vote the law of the land. Later, in 1973, the landmark case Roe v. Wade secured a woman's right to obtain a safe abortion. Although this took place under Nixon's administration, Nixon made no comment on it. In 1983, in his own words, President Reagan pledged to "work to overturn Roe v. Wade ."

President Jimmy Carter, who outright identified as a feminist in 2014, has claimed that while he believes Jesus would be against abortion rights, he also believes the Constitution supports them. Carter can clearly recognize that religious ideology doesn't belong in government, but throughout his presidential campaigning and his presidency, he remained ambivalent about his views, adjusting his rhetoric depending on whether his audiences were pro-choice or pro-life.

In 1993, on the 20th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) signed numerous bills to undo policies that Reagan and President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) had put up against abortion rights, contraceptive distribution, and family planning. However, Clinton's pro-choice stance had surprising motives based in religious ideology. He had been convinced by his pastor that, according to Biblical scripture, life begins not at conception, but with the "intake of breath." Under the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009), the sexist tenets of abstinence-only education were snuck into his "No Child Left Behind" initiative.

Under The Obama Administration

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In January this year, on the 42nd anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, Obama stated he was "deeply committed to protecting this core constitutional right” of obtaining abortions. While his commitment to protecting women's bodily autonomy has been impressive throughout his past two terms, his most triumphant work has been in bringing attention to sexual violence toward women and introducing anti-rape initiatives to college campuses. Rape remains an issue on campuses, but Obama's work in framing a national discussion around this and leading numerous campaigns to support female students is inspiring, nonetheless.

In 2014, a budget proposal by Obama eliminated funding for abstinence-only education. Abstinence-only sex ed often fails to provide female students with information about birth control, contraceptives, and abortion rights. Eliminating abstinence-only education from public schools is a crucial feminist cause because it portrays consenting pre-marital sex as shameful, as if female youth aren't being slut-shamed enough by the education system.

Civil Rights

Under Past Administrations


President Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) is the face of the abolitionist movement, and is often remembered for leading the North to victory in the Civil War. Although Lincoln personally condemned slavery as a violation of human rights, he only fought to end the spread of slavery, rather than to end the institution itself, and personally upheld the superiority of white men in the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debate of 1858.

Even his iconic Emancipation Proclamation of January 1863 only freed the slaves of Confederates; all it really did in the few Union slave states was make circumstances a bit more awkward than they already were. Prior to his April 1865 assassination, the House passed the 13th amendment, which officially abolished slavery. Lincoln would be dead before the amendment was officially ratified in December. One of the president's early ideas for reconstruction was to send former slaves back to Africa, although thankfully his advisers helped him see reason on that front.

In the Reconstruction Era following the Civil War, African Americans earned voting rights on paper, but crafty southern senators and racist terrorist groups had plenty of tactics to prevent them from voting. One of these tactics was lynching. In 1921 and 1948, respectively, Presidents Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) and Harry Truman (1945-1953) expressed their support for anti-lynching legislation. However, the administrations of Presidents Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), and Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) came and went with no definitive anti-lynching bill passing.

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As the desegregation of public schools and some other institutions slowly began to unfold in the 1950s, the Republican party increasingly campaigned on a platform of "states' rights" to win the vote of Southern supporters of segregation. President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) won the Southern vote by publicly supporting states' right to make decisions about issues like segregation, although he never explicitly supported segregation.

However, other presidents made more progress in fighting segregation. Following the historic Brown v. Board of Education on segregation in public schools, Eisenhower went as far as dispatching the National Guard to escort African American students to a recently desegregated school. Before him, under Truman's administration, segregation in the military finally ended. Under President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963), sweeping anti-discrimination acts were passed, and following Kennedy's assassination, President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) passed more anti-discrimination and desegregation bills, and called for urban reconstruction in disproportionately black neighborhoods.

Under The Obama Administration

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Obama made strides in the Civil Rights Movement just by being elected the nation's first African-American president. By winning the presidency, Obama proved that Americans no longer needed to be exclusively represented by white men.

Under Obama's administration, protecting voting rights has been a major priority. Obama has also made important statements about structural racism and police brutality, which disproportionately affects African Americans. He has also made numerous plans for immigration reform, ending labor exploitation of immigrants, and making citizenship easier for undocumented Mexican immigrants to obtain. His executive action concerning immigration reform allegedly protected nearly six million undocumented immigrants, according to Vox.

Of the deportation of undocumented immigrants, Obama cited the activism of Martin Luther King, Jr., and stated:

The notion that say some young kid who was brought here when he was 2 or 3 years old might somehow be deported at the age of 20 or 25, even though they've grown up as Americans — that's not who we are. That's not true to the spirit of what the march on Selma was about.

LGBT Rights

Under Past Administrations


Although the Defense of Marriage Act, passed during his presidency, helped hold back marriage equality, Bill Clinton actually spoke against the Supreme Court's decision at one point. Later, Clinton passed an act that allowed gay men to serve in the military, although not without the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" clause. President Carter has expressed his support for gay rights numerous times, and following the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality, he stated that Jesus would support gay marriage.

Under The Obama Administration


When he first ran for president in 2008, Obama opposed gay marriage, but by 2012, the president fully supported marriage equality. Obama appointed two of the justices who contributed to the landmark SCOTUS decision on marriage equality in June. Following that decision, the president lit the White House in the rainbow colors of LGBT pride, and was photographed running through a corridor bearing rainbow flags alongside his vice president, Joe Biden.

Even prior to the ruling on marriage equality, Obama's administration saw to the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in the military in December 2010. In a speech following the ban's repeal, Obama stated:

I was proud to sign the Repeal Act into law last December because I knew that it would enhance our national security, increase our military readiness, and bring us closer to the principles of equality and fairness that define us as Americans.

As for his stance on transgender rights, in April, Obama condemned conversion therapy for gay and transgender people. Two months later, Obama praised Caitlyn Jenner for her bravery via Twitter, and encouraged all LGBT Americans to share their stories to contribute to the fight for LGBT rights.

Education For All

Under Past Administrations

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As early as the 1930s, under FDR's administration, coeducational learning environments were still highly controversial, according to the History of Education Quarterly. Decades later, it was under Kennedy's administration that the concept of affirmative action began to arise. Since the dawn of education in America, only Protestant Anglo-Saxon white males have had undisputed access to education. For generations, if African Americans were entitled to education at all, it was segregated and often far less comprehensive.

Supporters of affirmative action sought to address this discrepancy in the newly desegregated American education system, but affirmative action remains a highly divisive issue in American politics.

Under The Obama Administration

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Earlier this year, Obama introduced a proposal to make the first two years of community college free for "responsible students." Believe it or not, the right to obtain education is a pivotal feminist issue. For decades, racist and misogynistic patriarchal values denied female and nonwhite students equal education opportunities, affecting their career paths and their families' socioeconomic statuses for generations. Today, as lower-income families struggle to fund their children's college educations, difficulty pursuing higher education could become an inter-generational issue. Obama's proposal to provide students the opportunity to obtain free college education is an important step in making the American education system more inclusive.

Economic Equality

Under Past Administrations


As the president famous for guiding Americans through the Great Depression, FDR probably comes to mind first when it comes to economics. Within the first 100 days of his presidency, FDR passed acts that regulated the stock market, checked the powers of big banks, and protected homeowner rights. Roosevelt also invested in programs to improve the lives of struggling agriculture workers, and created the Civilian Creation Corps, among other public works programs, to create jobs for countless unemployed Americans. However, it's worth noting that these programs disproportionately benefited young white males in greater numbers than any other group. Ultimately, it was under FDR's administration that the US government assumed its most significant role in the economy yet, at the time.

The many Americans who supported Roosevelt became known as the New Deal Coalition; they included rural workers, minorities, Southern Democrats, middle-class and lower-income families, and even the extremely wealthy. Wealthy Americans typically owned large companies that benefited when workers, assisted by government programs and lower tax rates, had enough money to invest in their businesses.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson also remains famous for his intense anti-poverty rhetoric, and his sweeping initiation of a "War on Poverty." However, while he made plenty of valid points on why, realistically, no child in America should have been living in poverty, his bold initiatives for creating jobs and helping the poor were too ambitious for the time period. Conservatives of the '60s attacked his administration for supposedly killing initiative and ambition in Americans by offering "handouts." So began the polarizing debate on whether welfare and government assistance are "handouts" that discourage initiative, or "hand-ups" (which LBJ called them) that encourage it.

Several presidencies later, the era of "Reaganomics," a fiscally conservative approach to economics that reduced taxes on the wealthy, began under the Reagan administration. The "trickle-down" theory proposed that when wealthy corporations saved money by paying lower taxes, their wealth would "trickle down" as they employed workers and raised wages. Many modern historians and economists agree Reaganomics had overwhelmingly adverse effects on the working class.

Under The Obama Administration

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Economic equality is a feminist issue, even today, because the demographic of low-wage workers is largely a product of decades of segregated education and racial persecution. Low-wage workers are predominantly female or of a racial minority. Protecting the middle class and the rights of low-wage workers have consistently been priorities in the Obama administration's economic platform.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has fought Republicans in the senate to raise minimum wage. In his 2014 State of the Union address, Obama called on Congress to raise the current national minimum wage rate of $7.25 per hour to $10.10. For the many single mothers in the fast food industry struggling to feed for their children while experiencing workplace sexism as a part of their day-to-day, a higher minimum wage would provide much-needed help. By continuously supporting increased taxes on the wealthy, the president's economic platform attacks the increasing gap between the rich and poor in America.

Health Care

Under Past Administrations

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In November 1945, about seven months into his first term, Truman proposed the first plan for national health care in US history. According to the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Truman's primary goal was to provide access to hospitals for people in poorer communities, and provide wages for doctors that low-income patients were incapable of paying. Many agreed that more doctors, dentists, and health professionals were needed in America, but Truman's plans for national health insurance funded by the federal government immediately stirred controversy. Born into an era of extreme wariness for communism, enemies of the bill, led by the American Medical Association (AMA), dubbed it "socialized medicine" and accused Truman and his staff of being communists. Soon, the Korean War began, and Truman was forced to give up his plans.

Nonetheless, by proposing improved health care, Truman's administration took steps toward remedying economic inequality. Later, his administration would make substantial gains for social security and veterans' rights.

Two presidencies later, in his sweeping "Unconditional War on Poverty," President Lyndon B. Johnson introduced Medicare (government-sponsored health care for senior citizens) and Medicaid (government-sponsored health care for the poor). He signed these acts into law in July 1965. Since, however, there have been plenty of White House conflicts concerning government-provided health insurance, all leading up to the decisive Obamacare era.

Under The Obama Administration

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According to Up Counsel, in 2013, 44 million Americans could not afford health insurance. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as "Obamacare" was introduced by President Obama in 2010. Obamacare addresses the persistent issues of economic inequality and access to health insurance by expanding Medicaid eligibility, offering cost assistance for insurance, increasing Medicare benefits, and explicitly deeming it illegal for insurance providers to drop or deny clients based on illness. Obamacare also requires that all Americans have health care, either through a provider or the federal government.

In June 2015, a ruling by SCOTUS upheld most of the tenets of Obamacare, but, according to the Obamacare website, Obamacare was passed not as a mandate, but a tax. The website states that "those who opt out [of the Obamacare tax] must pay a tax" but "those who opt in will receive tax breaks." Ultimately, with most Americans buying health insurance, costs should be kept relatively lower for all.

Health insurance and access to health care for all are feminist issues as they are critical to low-income working families struggling against economic inequality. Statistics also indicate women use health care services and prescription medicine more than men do, are more disposed to chronic and mental illnesses, and are less able to afford adequate medical care, as they are paid less than their male counterparts but have more medical expenses.

Incarceration And The War On Drugs

Under Past Administrations

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The 1980s saw the rise of the "crack epidemic," and with it, the racist, modern conception of "the ghetto." Crack cocaine obtained from the Bahamas and Dominican Republic became widely dealt in African American neighborhoods, where economic inequality resulting from structural racism left many with few other options to make a living. Rampant drug-dealing in these areas often led to violent crime and death from overdose. President George H.W. Bush responded by initiating a "War on Drugs." The result was mass incarceration, lack of funding for crucial medical research, and the reinforcement of structural racism in law enforcement.

Under The Obama Administration


With more and more states legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana, the question of why we know so little about the drug is increasingly being raised. According to The Times, research on marijuana science has been so limited because, frankly, funding for research has been so difficult to obtain. Money that could have funded research on marijuana's mix of positive and adverse effects, and how recreational use really affects society, has instead been used to put 97,472 drug offenders in prison in 2010 alone, according to Huffington Post. $15 billion allegedly go to law enforcement for the "war on drugs" in America annually, and according to the Drug Policy Alliance, combined state funding for everything from drug-related arrests to incarceration totals to about $51 billion.

Law enforcement against drug offenders tends to disproportionately persecute African Americans and Latinos, and often sentences them to longer prison time than their white counterparts. To others, the War on Drugs is primarily a class war, disproportionately persecuting lower economic classes and allowing wealthier Americans immunity.

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Although, admittedly, funding for the War on Drugs has remained relatively high during Obama's presidency, Obama has indicated his support for marijuana research in a CNN documentary, and has even expressed openness to the idea of eventually decriminalizing marijuana depending on states' policies and research findings. Obama has also recently begun campaigning for dramatic criminal justice reform, and is the first president in US history to ever visit a prison. With 2.2 million in prison as of 2013, many of whom were sentenced for drug offenses, Obama has recently stated that the $80 billion spent on incarceration could rid of college tuition. He has even addressed the very serious issue of rape in prison. On Tuesday, at an NAACP conference in Philadelphia, Obama stated that prison rape should not be tolerated, and nor should jokes about it in popular culture.

While a lot of the incredible progress made during Obama's years as President can certainly be attributed to changing attitudes among the majority of Americans, his dedication to responding to this change is impressive to say the least. He's certainly had strong role models in his presidential predecessors, but when it comes to inspiring real change, Obama has consistently looked to the American people first. The president ran his first presidential campaign on the slogan "Change We Can Believe In," and after more than six years in office, he's certainly delivered.

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