Barack Obama says pop culture teaches boys to 'excel in sports and sexual conquest'

Elena Sheppard
·3 min read

Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States, but he’s also a girl dad with his own perspective on toxic masculinity, as he shared in an upcoming episode of Renegades: Born in the USA, his podcast with Bruce Springsteen.

The former POTUS, wife to Michelle Obama and father to Sasha, 19, and Malia, 22, shared soundbites from conversations he's had with friends of his daughters, specifically about how masculinity is encouraged in society. His big takeaway: unfortunately not much has changed since he was growing up.

“I talk to my daughters' friends about boys growing up, and so much of popular culture tells them that the only clear, defining thing about being a man, being masculine, is you excel in sports and sexual conquest," he said in a clip for the March 22 episode titled "Masculine Qualities" on Spotify and first published exclusively by Elle.

"And violence, right? Those are the three things, and violence, if it’s healthy at least, is subsumed into sports," he said. "Later, you add to that definition, making money, right? How much money can you make?"

Former President Barack Obama with his daughters Sasha (L) and Malia (R) in 2015. (Photo: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)
Former President Barack Obama with his daughters Sasha (L) and Malia (R) in 2015. (Photo: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

Obama and Springsteen launched their 8-episode podcast in February in which they share candid thoughts about race relations, fatherhood, class, and American life. According to The New York Times, the two first met on the 2008 campaign trail and from there, a friendship blossomed.

In the clip, Obama did list some positive attributes of the “traditional American man” most notably the “sense of responsibility” meaning making sacrifices for family or future generations. "Handling your business," he said. But, he added, much needs to evolve.

“There is a bunch of stuff in there we did not reckon with,” he said. “And now you’re seeing with Me Too, part of what we’re dealing with in terms of women still seeking equal pay, part of what we’re still dealing with in terms of domestic abuse and violence.”

This is not the first time the president has gone on the record about manhood. At an event with basketball player Steph Curry in 2019, the former president said, “Being a man is first and foremost being a good human. And that means being responsible, being reliable, working hard, being kind, being respectful, being compassionate. The notion that somehow defining yourself as a man is dependent on, are you able to put somebody else down instead of lifting them up; are you able to dominate as opposed to support, that is an old view.”

Barack told Springsteen, “There was never a full reckoning of ... who our dads were, what they had in them, how we have to understand that and talk about that, what lessons we should learn from it. All that kind of got buried."

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