The XX Factor

Obama’s Comments on Sexism Are a Guns-Akimbo Rhetorical Moment

President Obama addresses the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 27, 2015, in New York City.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Obama gave a speech at the U.N. on Sunday addressing what he sees as the major obstacles to ending world poverty. “It’s my seventh year of addressing the General Assembly, and I tend to be more blunt,” he explained. “Along with the gray hair, I’m becoming more likely to speak my mind.” He proceeded to do just that on topic like climate change and inequality. 

But perhaps his best moment was when he was discussing the evils of sexism. “One of the best indicators of whether a country will succeed is how it treats its women,” he said. “And I have to say I do not have patience for the excuse of, ‘Well, we have our own ways of doing things.’ ”

“We understand that there is a long tradition in every society of discriminating against women,” he added. “But that’s not an excuse.”

It was a guns akimbo rhetorical moment. With one hand, Obama fired upon those who try to reframe sexism as a liberal value by calling it multiculturalism; with the other, he fired upon his conservative detractors, who paint him as some kind of sleeper agent who is out to undermine our liberal democracy and replace it with sharia law.

In other words, it was the latest in a series of DGAF moves that have characterized Obama’s presidency in the post-midterm last quarter.

The most recent of these was just a couple of weeks ago, when he jumped in on the social media storm of anger following the arrest of a 14-year-old Muslim high school student for bringing a clock to his Irving, Texas, high school. (This bit of shade at paranoid conservatives only became funnier once a clock-truther movement, led by the Irving mayor, inevitably started to form.) Or there was the time that Obama said the N-word on Marc Maron’s podcast. “Racism, we are not cured of it. And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public,” he said, all casual like he didn’t know what the reaction would be. It’s impossible to believe he didn’t know he was baiting Fox News to accuse him of being the real racist for saying a naughty—which they then went ahead and did. Indeed, Obama has enjoyed reminding America that he knows all the curse words. “After the midterm elections, my advisers asked me, ‘Mr. President, do you have a bucket list?’ ” he joked during his White House Correspondents Dinner speech. “And I said, ‘Well, I have something that rhymes with bucket list,’ ” he said, listing a whole bunch of DGAF achievements, such as taking executive action on immigration and climate change as well as finally normalizing trade and travel relations with Cuba. 

Some of my favorite Obama DGAF moments have been, unlike his U.N. speech, apolitical ones. I, for one, admire his willingness to stick it to the haters who go into irrational fits every time they see someone using a selfie stick. But my personal favorite DGAF moment might be the time he posed with Girl Scouts wearing a tiara on his head, showing that this Obama does not care if you laugh at him while he’s wearing silly headgear. Months before the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile, Obama was happy to show the world an image of actual male confidence, in all its pink sparkly glory.