ICYMI, the White House just held its very first United State of Women Summit, a day-long event attended by close to 5000 people which brought together some of the most brilliant, popular and talented minds across a number of industries to discuss ways to elevate the role of women in society. Of course President Obama and First Lady Michelle were present and part of proceedings, as were luminaries such as Vice President Joe Biden, Oprah Winfrey, Patricia Arquette, Sophia Bush, Kerry Washington, Amy Poehler and many more.
You may have already seen the video President Obama talking about being a feminist which was doing the rounds on social media, viral-style.
“I may be a little grayer than I was 8 years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like,” he said to rapturous applause. Admitting that he knows the audience was probably more excited to hear from his wife and Oprah, he also took a few moments to talk about the role of women in society (full video below).
“It’s not just about the Benjamins, it’s about the Tubmans too. We need all our young people to know that Clara Barton and Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth and Eleanor Roosevelt and Dorothy Height, those aren’t just for Women’s History Month. They’re the authors of our history, women who shaped their destiny. They need to know that,” he said, referencing Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist and activist who fought against slavery, and who will now be appearing on the $20 bill after a major push to include women on the US currency.
“We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure and our boys to be assertive, he said. That criticizes 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 pay on the back for theirs. We need to keep changing the attitude that congratulates men for changing a diaper, stigmatizes full time dads, penalizing working moms,” he said about gender roles.
And in a nod to the political and cultural climate right now in the US around racial and sexual identities that are being legislated and discriminated against in a really divisive way, the President said change starts with each of us first and foremost.
“If we are going to truly change our policies and our politics, then we’re also going to have to change something else. We’re going to have to change the way we see ourselves and this is happening already, but I want us to be more intentional about it… The emotional, sexual and psychological stereotyping of females begin when the doctor says it’s a girl… and that has consequences for all of us– whether we’re men or women, black, white, straight gay, transgender or otherwise,” he said, which makes us really thankful that we have had such an outspoken feminist in the highest office in our land for the past 8 years.
But that’s not the only awesome thing that happened. In fact, there were a number of great discussions, talks and panels being presented, so we thought we would give a rundown of our highlights from the coverage we saw.
Becoming an unofficial spokesperson for the issue of equal pay since her awesome Oscars speech in 2015, actress Patricia Arquette took to the stage to note that this summit was being exactly 100 years after women won the right to vote in the US. She also pointed to the economic disparity that exists not only between men and women, but among Latina and African American women at further divide.
“This is economic suppression. We have 66 million women and children living in poverty and 33 million would not be if women were paid their full dollar,” she said. Sadly, she is not wrong. In fact a recent study showed the US is the leader when it comes to child poverty, which should be an embarrassment to every current leader in our legislature.
Joining her in this issue was Lily Ledbetter, the woman who was the inspiration behind the Lily Ledbetter equal pay act which was the first order of business President Obama signed when he took office in 2009.
“We need more women in Congress and we need more women at the top,” she said, arguing that when we have equal representation in our highest levels of government and leadership, our issues start to become a little more important. And hey, now that we are set to potentially nominate Hillary Clinton as our first female president, this could become a tangible reality from 2017 onward.
Entrepreneurship was a topic presented at the Summit, with the godfather of business Warren Buffet in attendance to talk about why he sees women in business as an important ingredient to success. In an interview with Dina Habib Powell, the head of impact investing for Goldman Sachs, he said sees female involvement in the economy as key to the country’s prosperity. Without financially empowering women, he continued, America would be effectively “playing with one hand tied behind its back.”
The man whose worth is estimated around $66.3 billion, revealed that thanks to the advice of his wife, he has brought more women onto the board of his company Berkshire Hathaway. Now that he has three women total on his board, he sees the benefits and wants to be an industry leader in changing the narrative around women in leadership roles, so that businesses can start considering women for top positions in the same way as they do men, without the stigma attached.
Not only is Warren Buffet a supporter of women in business, but one of his foundations has donated close to half a billion dollars to organizations supporting reproductive health, and most notably funded a birth control experiment in Colorado which saw abortion rates and unintended pregnancy rates fall by 40% on average when teen girls and low income women were given IUDs. So yeah, we dig him! Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood CEO was also at the Summit to champion reproductive equality for women.
Violence against women and sexual assault were major topics of discussion at the summit, and with recent headlines concerning the rape of an unconscious woman by the hands of Stanford college student Brock Turner exposing the white privilege that continues to keep certain rapists and athletes in a safe bubble away from accountability, it was good to see Vice President Joe Biden at the event representing the It’s On Us campaign.
“We have a worldwide problem, It’s not just a problem in the United States. I’ve thought about this since I got engaged in this in 1970. It’s ultimately about the abuse of power…We have to give women and girls a greater voice. But that’s not enough. We have to ensure that their voices will be heard…Every single solitary thing a man can do, a woman can do as well,” said the guy who was also the chief architect of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.
“If we free women with the same opportunity, we free men, we free humanity. That is not hyperbole, that is a fact. Violence against women is a crime pure and simple. Changing laws isn’t enough. We have to change the national culture. We have to take off the social blinders that make it easy for people to overlook sexual violence,” he continued.
Celebrity advocates such as Matt McGorry, Kerry Washington and Mariska Hargitay were present to also lend their voices, representing the various anti-violence organizations they work with, to add to the message of the Vice President in a bid to change the way we view victims, the way rape and sexual assault is tackled in our judicial system, and how each of us can be powerful advocates in changing the status quo.
“It’s going to take enough people in enough communities to say ‘enough is enough’,” said Mariska Hargitay.
Actress Sophia Bush took a moment to chat with the Huffington Post about why being an outspoken feminist is important to her. Admitting that she does get backlash about her views as it is still considered a “dirty word” for some people, including her fans.
“The blowback for me doesn’t come from Hollywood, per se. It just comes from people, from American people. And I’m so shocked that in this land of the free, I’ll be judged in that way or especially have mothers speak to me in the way that they do sometimes [or] have men demean me or tell me to stay in my place,” she said.
She often has people telling her to stay quiet or to get back in her place, but refuses to allow this negativity to stop her from speaking out about the inequality issues she wants to see changed for the better.
“I’m like, ‘You don’t know what my place is.’ This is my place. My voice is my place. My family fought for this. My family immigrated to America so I could have this opportunity. The women who fought for suffrage fought for this. So I’m [going to] go ahead and use it, but thanks!” she said with a huge smile.
And of course the interview which everyone has been talking about, is the Oprah Winfrey-Michelle Obama duo. It was every bit as empowering as you’d imagine. They talked about how men can be an integral fight in raising a generation of boys and girls who view each other as equals, and empowering girls to reach their full potential, which has been a major focus of the First Lady’s time in the White House.
As you can see, there were a number of highlights we loved. Most of all, seeing the White House lead the way on the gender equality is a very important example of leadership. At the end of the day, like the President said in his speech, change starts with us. We have heard the messages, been inspired by the people, and become stirred to action by a number of different horrific events in our society. We can’t just leave the warm and fuzzies behind after watching these videos, we have to be part of the change.
You can watch the full interview between Oprah and Michelle Obama below: