Who Run The World? The Highlights From The United States Of Women Summit
Yesterday, in our nation’s capital, women took center stage as the White House hosted their first ever United States of Women Summit. Women like senior advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, actress Amy Poehler, actress Kerry Washington, Oprah and so many more converged at the summit to speak about everything women.
There were so many highlights from the all day event. And the White House even posted a video of the entire thing. But since many of us are at work and don’t have all that extra time, here are a few of the highlights.
First, our little favorite Mikaila Ulmer, the 11-year-old founder of “Me & the Bees Lemonade” spoke about dreams and entrepreneurship before she introduced President Obama. She offered a bit of advice for all of us. “Only a kid would think you could change the world with a lemonade stand…My advice to anyone who’s looking to start a business, Be Fearless, believe in the impossible and dream like a kid.”
When President Obama took the podium, he commended Mikaila saying:
“I was just told backstage, when she was asked to introduce me, there were some folks who were organizing this amazing event that said, is she going to feel a little nervous speaking in front of 5,000 people? And so they asked her and she said, oh, no, I just spoke to 11,000 last week. (Laughter and applause.) So we were looking backstage — she was on her tippy-toes with her entrepreneurial self. (Laughter.)”
The little girl is not only a bawse, she’s an inspiration.
As for President Obama, he started by letting the room know where he stands. “I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like.” speaking about one of the most recent milestones in his life, watching his eldest daughter Malia Obama graduate from high school.
“Some of you may know that on Friday, my older daughter Malia graduated from high school. (Applause.) And I sat in the back and wore dark glasses. (Laughter.) And only cried once, but it was — I made this weird sound because I was choking back — (makes crying sound) — (laughter) — and people looked at me, people sitting in front of us turned back. And then I suppressed it. (Laughter.) But I was thinking about how she is graduating at this extraordinary time for women in America.”
He went on to list the road we’ve traveled and how far we’ve come, including women’s college enrollment, the availability of birth control and how his Affordable Care Act has made birth control free. But he also talked about the progress we have yet to make, saying:
“We need equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) We need paid family and sick leave. (Applause.) We need affordable child care. We’ve got to raise the minimum wage. (Applause.) If we’re truly a nation of family values, we wouldn’t put up with the fact that many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth. (Applause.) We should guarantee paid maternity leave and paid paternity leave, too. That’s how you value families. (Applause.) That’s how employers retain great workers. And it’s good for women — because when childcare falls disproportionately on mothers, as it often does, it makes it that much harder to advance in their careers.”
Then he got to the tougher work of changing our minds.
“We’re going to have to be honest with ourselves. We’re 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. I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but we’re still boxed in by stereotypes about how men and women should behave.
As the great Shirley Chisholm once said, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begin when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl.’” (Applause.) And that has consequences for all of us, whether we’re men or women, black, white, gay, straight, transgender or otherwise.
We need to keep changing the attitude that raises our girls to be demure, and our boys to be assertive; 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 pat on the back for theirs. (Applause.) 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, stigmatizes full-time dads, penalizes working moms. (Applause.)
We need to keep changing the attitude that prioritizes being confident, competitive, and ambitious in the workplace — unless you’re a woman. (Applause.)
He made a point to speak to the girls and women of color.
“We need to keep changing a culture that shines a particularly unforgiving light on women and girls of color. (Applause.) About how they look, about how they feel, about what they should or should not do. (Applause.) Michelle will talk about this in a little bit. She’s talked about this. Despite her extraordinary achievements and success, the fact that she is — she is an American original, she is unique, but she still had times where she’s had doubts, where she’s had to worry whether she was acting the right way or looking the right way, or whether she was being too assertive or too angry. You remember that?”
I particularly enjoyed the moment where he shouted out Harriet Tubman being placed on the new money and other Black women who’ve shaped our country.
But our country is not just all about the Benjamins — it’s about the Tubmans, too. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)
You can watch President Obama’s full speech in the video below.
As President Obama mentioned in the opening remarks of his speech, most of the attendees were there to see Michelle and Oprah. The two women sat down for a nearly 45 minute interview. Oprah started the conversation asking about the importance of loving yourself and the pressure of living up to other’s people’s expectations.
“One of the things that I always tell my mentees, I tell my daughters is that our first job in life as women, I think, is to get to know ourselves. And a lot of times, we don’t do that. We spend our time pleasing, satisfying, looking out into the world to define who we are, listening to the messages, the images, the limited definitions that people have of who we are. And that’s true for women of color, for sure. There’s a limited box that we are put in and if we live by that limited definition, we miss out on a lot of who we are…So for me, I came into this with a pretty clear sense of myself. So when I hear the smack talking from outside the world, it’s easy to sort of brush that off because I know who I am.”
Later she said,
“I knew that I would have to define this role, very uniquely and specifically to me and who I was. So I came in thinking about who I wanted to be in this position and who I needed to be for my girls first of all. You remember, Malia and Sasha were little, itty bitties, when we came into office. It still moves me to tears to think about the first day I put them in the car, with their secret service agents, to go to their first day of school. And I saw them leaving and I thought, ‘What on earth am I doing to these babies?’ So I knew right then and there my first job was to make sure that they were going to be whole and normal and cared for in the midst of all this craziness. And then I started to understand that if I was going to protect them, I had to number one protect myself and protect my time…One of the things I realized is that if you do not take control of your time and your life, other people will gobble it up.”
When Oprah said she’s never heard men say ‘I just don’t have the time,’ Michelle responded, ‘You know why? Because they don’t have to balance anything. Sorry. I hope that that is changing but so many men don’t have to do it all.”
To that point, later in the conversation Mrs. Obama offered some advice to men: Be better.
“Be better at everything. Be better fathers,” she said during a conversation with one-time talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. “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. That is the greatest gift that the men in my life gave to me…”Be engaged. Don’t just think going to work and coming home makes you a man. Be better. Just be better. I could go on, but I’m not. You get the point, fellas.”
She also spoke about the advantage of having good parents but offered some words of encouragement for those who didn’t have them.
“But if you don’t have that parent, that mother, that father, then you got to find it. They’re out there. There is somebody out there who loves you and is waiting to love you. And that means you have to make room for them. And if you’re surrounded by a bunch of low life folks who aren’t supporting you, then there is no room for people that do love you.”
You can watch the full interview in the video below. It’s chock full of gems.