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Barack Obama Attacks Toxic Masculinity to Defend the Future

"We feel like we've got to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act and that's a trap."

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To celebrate the fifth anniversary of his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, former president and ejected Disneyland guest Barack Obama appeared at a town hall for young men of color in Oakland. After introducing himself as Michelle’s husband and NBA star Steph Curry, the co-host of the event, as Ayesha’s husband, Obama shared some thoughts on toxic masculinity.

“A lot of young men in this society, particularly young men of color, have difficulty finding the space and the resources and support to deal with their issues,” he said, describing both structural deficits and social stigma men face that ultimately lead them into toxic behavior.

“We feel like we’ve got to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act and that’s a trap,” he added. “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.”

That begs the question: how does Obama think men should act?

“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.”

According to the Obama Foundation, the goal of My Brother’s Keeper is “to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and to ensure all youth can reach their full potential.”

“What we want to do is create a space in which young men of color and young men generally don’t have to feel as if for me to be respected and admired in my community I’ve got to act a certain way,” he added at the town hall.

Obama joined a cultural conversation already in progress, as everyone from researchers studying social media’s effects on men to those behind the now-infamous Gillette commercial puts in their two cents.

While he no longer has the nuclear launch codes, Obama is still a tremendously powerful figure who can shape the societal conversation. We’re all for him helping and pushing men to be better, particularly as his successor sets a pretty shitty example.