The Obamas' 15 Best Feminist Moments During Their Time In Office
After the election of a man known for his lewd comments about women — and after the narrow electoral loss of America's best hope (so far) for finally having a female president — many American feminists are understandably feeling sad and afraid. As President-elect Trump prepares to take office, though, it is all the more important to celebrate the work of his predecessor, who was an integral part of an administration that made every effort to support women's rights. The soon-to-be-former first family were impressive examples of feminism in the highest office in the nation; the Obama family's biggest feminist moments are among the many reasons they will be missed.
President Barack Obama has spent much of his time in office working to improve the lives of minority and marginalized communities in the United States. From his advocacy for LGBT rights to his recent work to protect Muslim Americans from the president-elect's promised "registry," Obama has made protection of others a key component of his administration. Promoting the equality of women is another such aspect of Obama's advocacy, something he is joined in by his wife and daughters. Like Hillary Clinton before her, Michelle Obama is a first lady with her own highly successful career and an Ivy League education, and she has devoted much of her time in the East Wing to helping women and girls worldwide. Daughters Sasha and Malia also seem poised for success in their own right, despite having to weather their father's terrible turkey puns for most of the last eight years — Malia was admitted to Harvard this year, and Sasha demonstrated that she knew the value of hard work when she took a summer job at a takeout window.
Before Trump takes office, then, let's take a look back at the Obama family's most feminist moments of the last eight years.
1. Barack & Michelle Obama Launch Let Girls Learn
Girls in developing countries still face many significant impediments to getting a good education. That's why Michelle and Barack Obama launched the Let Girls Learn initiative in the spring of 2015. The initiative seeks to address the cultural problems that impede women from receiving secondary education in certain countries. Michelle Obama traveled to the Middle East last fall to speak about some of these problems. The initiative led to the creation of STEM education for women in Rwanda and also partners with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reduce the spread of HIV amongst young women.
In October 2016, the Obama administration announced the commitment of another five million dollars towards the initiative's objectives, which the President hopes will outlast his administration.
2. Obama's "This is What a Feminist Looks Like"
In August 2016, Obama published an essay in the women's magazine Glamour, describing why he identifies as a feminist. Much of his reasoning is that he is the father of daughters, an often-cited but sometimes frustrating reason to believe in women's rights — women, after all, do not need to be related to a man in order to matter. Still, his imperfect essay is still important. He rightly mentions that gender stereotypes unfairly confine all Americans, not just women. In the essay, he concluded that feminism is about the idea that "when everybody is equal, we are all more free."
3. Michelle Obama Straight-Up Told Men To "Be Better"
During the United State of Women Summit last June, Michelle Obama didn't hold back. In a discussion about women's rights with Oprah Winfrey, Michelle addressed how men can help promote gender equality:
Be better at everything. Be better fathers. Good lord, just being good fathers who love your daughters and are providing a solid example of what it means to be a good man in the world, showing them what it feels like to be loved. That is the greatest gift that the men in my life gave me.
4. Obama Signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act
The first piece of legislation that newly-elected President Obama signed in 2009 was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to make it easier for women to sue their employers for wage discrimination.
5. The Obamas Secured Millions For Women of Color
6. Obama Launched An Effort To Help Adolescent Girls
Obama administration Secretary of State John Kerry launched the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, which aims to help girls around the world stay in school. The $47 million initiative will prioritize promoting education and preventing practices like child marriage and female genital mutilation.
7. Obama's Push For Fair Insurance Prices
The Affordable Care Act made it illegal for health insurance companies to charge women higher premiums simply for being women. It also prohibited denial of coverage based on preexisting conditions, which is significant for feminism because pregnancy was often defined as a preexisting condition.
8. Michelle Obama Stood Up To Trump's Misogyny
After the leak of the infamous Access Hollywood tape that showed Donald Trump bragging about groping women without consent, Michelle Obama gave a powerful speech that voiced what many American women were thinking:
We thought all of that was ancient history, didn't we? And so many have worked for so many years to end this kind of violence and abuse and disrespect, but here we are in 2016 and we're hearing these exact same things every day on the campaign trail. We are drowning in it. And all of us are doing what women have always done: We're trying to keep our heads above water, just trying to get through it, trying to pretend like this doesn't really bother us maybe because we think that admitting how much it hurts makes us as women look weak.
9. Obama & Biden Teamed Up To Fight Sexual Assault
The It's On Us campaign aims to empower men and women to go from bystander to activist in the prevention of sexual assault on college campuses and elsewhere. The campaign also formed guidelines to help demonstrate to universities how their sexual assault policies should look.
10. Obamacare Required Insurers to Provide Contraception
Obamacare requires insurance providers to cover FDA-approved methods of contraception, including the pill, IUDs, and diaphragms. This helps the millions of American women insured through the ACA manage their own healthcare and make their own decisions about family planning.
11. Michelle Obama Stood Up for African Women
When Michelle Obama addressed a group of young African leaders in 2014, she made it clear that respect for women is a critical component of any nation's future. "No country can ever truly flourish if it stifles the potential of its women and deprives itself of the contributions of half of its citizens," she said. The most powerful moment of that speech, though, condemned oppression in severe terms:
Any man who uses his strength to oppress women is a coward, and he is holding back the progress of his family and his country.
The first lady has made it a key priority of her work to change global attitudes about the role and capability of women in society.
12. Obama Signed A Bill Of Rights For Rape Victims
This fall, President Obama signed into law a list specifying the rights that American rape victims have. This bill of rights includes the right to having evidence collected free of charge, the right to notification about test results, and the right to notification about impending destruction of rape kits, among other things.
13. Obama Worked To End The Rape Kit Backlog
One of the most significant women's rights problems in the United States is the enormous size of the rape kit backlog — evidence collected from women who were allegedly raped that has not been tested for a possible match. Eliminating the rape kit backlog could result in thousands of rape convictions, giving peace and justice to victims and preventing new crimes from occurring. Obama earned praise from celebrity advocates like Mariska Hargitay when he committed $45 million dollars to help end the rape kit backlog in the United States.
14. Michelle Obama Told American Girls To Focus on Success, Not Boys
At a panel hosted by Glamour in 2015, Michelle Obama urged American girls to feel comfortable competing with boys, reminding them that education is more important than teenage romance. However, citing her own experiences, she also noted that women can be educated and competitive and still be successful romantically:
There is no boy, at this age, cute enough or interesting enough to stop you from getting an education. If I had worried about who liked me and who thought I was cute when I was your age, I wouldn’t be married to the president of the United States.
"Compete with the boys," she reportedly urged the audience. "Beat the boys."
15. Obama Introduced New Protections For Planned Parenthood
Even on the eve of his successor's inauguration, Obama is still trying to protect women from what's to come. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides millions of Americans with lifesaving medical care, including cancer screenings and family planning resources. President Obama has vowed to make this promise difficult for Trump to fulfill. Last week, Obama introduced a new federal rule that prohibited discrimination in federal funding against groups like Planned Parenthood. It may not prove to be a totally insurmountable obstacle, but it will protect the organization in the short term.