Barack Obama made history as the first African-American president of the United States when he was elected in 2008, but any girl growing up in America today — even his own daughters — could eventually make history again as the nation's first female president. The question looms, however, as to why in the year 2012, 164 years after America's first women's rights conference was held, hasn't it happened?
President Obama and his wife, Michelle, sat down with Ladies' Home Journal to share their theories on why women don't get involved in politics nearly as much as their male counterparts do, and what they're doing to ensure their daughters stay confident and build leadership skills.
"One argument is that women are just more sensible than men," the president says in the magazine's September issue of why women are less likely to run for office than men. "They don't want to put themselves through the ridiculous process. But I do think part of it has to do with the enormous strains being a candidate places on your family." He also admits that girls are often raised differently than boys. "It's easier for boys to imagine themselves being president. They see themselves as being in charge. Girls are socialized to think about other people more."
So what can we do differently? The first lady has plenty of ideas, including one that dovetails with her focus on fighting childhood obesity. "We have to start with them while they're young and instill in girls a sense of confidence. That's why sports are so important," she explains. "They teach you how to compete—how to fall down and get back up. We've got to give young women the opportunities to be leaders."
While the Obamas are certainly in a unique position to instill leadership skills in their daughters, 11-year-old Sasha and 14-year-old Malia, they still use techniques any American parent might.
"It can be as simple as sitting down at the dinner table and asking them to articulate what's going on in their day or having them negotiate for the things they want," says the first lady. "All of that is practicing leadership. I constantly remind my girls that when they get to college or have a job, they're not going to have a parent there to help push for the things they need. Girls need to know it's okay to advocate for themselves and for the things they think are important."
President Obama agrees. "I want Malia and Sasha to feel confident about expressing their opinions. And if they're good at something I want them to have the confidence to step up and shine. I don't want them to lose their empathy and stop thinking about other people, because that's an important part of leadership too. But I don't want them to be wallflowers."
And, according to President Obama, his girls already have a pretty outstanding female role model at home thanks to Michelle. "She's very smart. She's a wonderful speaker. She's very cute. Having said all those things, the quality I love most about her is, she's honest and genuine. I think that comes across to people. They get a sense that they can trust her," he shares. "You know, the word 'authenticity' is overused these days. But I do think it captures what folks are looking for—not just in leaders, but also in friends and coworkers—and that is, folks who are on the level. People like that tell you what they think and don't have a bunch of hidden motives. That's who Michelle is. She's also funny. She's the funniest person in our family."
Spoken like the kind of husband every woman wants … her biggest fan.
The September issue of Ladies Home Journal hits newsstands on August 14.
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