President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have championed women’s issues as politicians. But yesterday at the first annual United State of Women conference they took the opportunity to show men how to be, as Michelle Obama asked all men to “be better.”
The day-long event Tuesday aimed to both celebrate the progress that women have made while also acknowledging the work that lays ahead on issues like pay equality and sexual assault. Other speakers at the event included House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.
In a discussion with Oprah Winfrey during the conference, the First Lady had some succinct advice on how men can help women: “Be better. Just be better. I could go on, but you get the point, fellas.” She also pointed out the double standard of women having to balance home and work lives. “So many men don’t have to do it all,” she said.
“I may be a little grayer than I was eight years ago, but this is what a feminist looks like,” President Obama said in his address. He pointed to the successes of his administration championing women’s rights, although acknowledged that there was still a lot to tackle. “We need equal pay for equal work!” he said. He also voiced his support for paid sick leave and parental leave. “If we’re truly a nation of family values, we wouldn’t put up with the fact that many women can’t get a paid day off to give birth!”
Vice President Biden used his speech to soundly condemn rape culture, an issue that has been on the forefront of conversation due to the Stanford sexual assault controversy. “Violence against women is a crime, pure and simple,” he said. This is not a first for the vice president. He has fought against sexual violence throughout his career, including introducing the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 as a senator.
He specifically addressed men in a portion of his speech, stating, “We’ve got to overcome this social discomfort of calling out the misogyny that happens when no women are present: the locker room talk, the bar banter, the rape jokes…if you let it pass because you wanna become of the one guys, you become an accomplice.”