Obama pled with the graduates not to meet such hurdles with rage or despair, but to take a page from Barack’s playbook: “As he says, ‘When they go low, I go high.’” And, whatever else you do, she said, vote. “You can hashtag all over Instagram and Twitter, but those social-media movements will disappear faster than a Snapchat if you're not also registered to vote, if you’re not sending in your absentee ballots. Statehouses will continue to roll back voting rights and write discrimination into the law. We see it right here in Mississippi, just two weeks ago, how swiftly progress can hurtle backwards—how easy it is to single out a small group and marginalize them for who they are or who they love,” she said, referring to the state’s new “religious-freedom” law that gives legal protection to people who refuse to provide services based on a moral objection to gay marriage, out-of-wedlock sex, or transgender identity. “So we've got to stand side-by-side with all our neighbors,” proclaimed Obama, “straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Hindu, immigrant, Native American. Because the march for civil rights isn’t just about African Americans. It’s about all Americans!”
Translation: Chew on that, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and all you other mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging demagogues.
Meet the fourth-quarter Michelle Obama. She looks and sounds a lot like the First Lady we’ve watched for most of the game. She still hits many of the same themes about overcoming personal challenges, ignoring the naysayers, and answering “the doubters and the haters” with excellence. But as her time in the White House runs down, she is gradually loosening up—venturing into trickier terrain and getting more pointed in her commentary.
Take her March 23 speech to high school students in Buenos Aires, which featured this bit about her youthful brushes with sexism:
Teachers who didn’t think that I was smart enough, and would call on the boys in class instead of the girls, even though the girls had better grades. People who thought a girl shouldn’t have ambition, and they would ask my brother what career he planned to have, but would ask me what kind of man I wanted to marry.
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.
Stories about overcoming low expectations and double standards are not new for Obama. But her jab at the ongoing objectification and dismissal of women was more aggressive and explicit than usual. And criticizing men for wolf whistling at the ladies was tantamount to painting a bulls-eye on her chest for anti-PC conservative critics.