With degrees from Princeton and Harvard Law behind her, her own law and public sector career separate from her husband’s, and a legacy of fighting for the rights of women and girls, as well as the health of the country, Michelle Obama is one impressive and accomplished First Lady. But growing up on Chicago’s South Side, life was not always easy, especially as a motivated young girl. During her tour of Argentina, she opened up about her early struggles with sexism in an empowering speech for her equal opportunity initiative, Let Girls Learn.
“As I got older, I found that men would whistle at me or make comments about how I looked as I walked down the street, as if my body were their property, as if I were an object to be commented on instead of a full human being with thoughts and feelings of my own. I began to realize that the hopes I had for myself were in conflict with the messages I was receiving from people around me, messages that said that as a girl, my voice was somehow less important. That how my body looked was more important than how my mind worked, that being strong and powerful and outspoken just wasn’t appropriate or attractive for a girl. And soon enough, I started to question myself,” she said.
While the First Lady herself may not have been immune to the street harassment that many women and girls endure every single day, she explained how she found her own strength against it. “But eventually, I just got tired of always worrying about what everyone else thought of me. So I decided not to listen to the voices of those who doubted or dismissed me. Instead I decided to listen to my own voice and to rely on the support of the people in my life who believed in my ability to achieve my own dreams.”
Mrs. Obama continued, discussing the importance of Let Girls Learn, her movement that partners with both The Peace Corps and USAID to train volunteers and community members to reinvigorate the education of adolescent girls worldwide, and to make schooling more accessible to them. “Imagine how you would’ve felt if one day someone told you, ‘Sorry, you’re a girl. Your dreams stop here. You have to drop out of school, you have to marry a man 20 years older than you who you’ve never met, and start having babies of your own,’” she said. “It’s unthinkable. None of us would want that fate for ourselves so why would we accept it for any girl on this planet?”
Through Let Girls Learn, Michelle Obama is adding another incredibly important mission to her legacy, and by opening up how she overcame her own struggles, she’s providing a hefty dose of inspiration to us all. Learn more about Let Girls Learn here.