Michelle Obama’s ‘divorced dads’ comment is sexist and woefully out of touch

shared parenting obama fatherlessness

This week in addressing a London audience, First Lady Michelle Obama compared Donald Trump to a “divorced dad.”

[The United States] comes from a broken family, we are a little unsettled. Sometimes you spend the weekend with divorced dad. That feels like fun but then you get sick. That is what America is going through. We are living with divorced dad.”

Michelle and her husband (see what I did there?) have been very clear in their distain for the U.S. president. That she compares Trump to the all of the 14 million separated dads is a reprehensible insult to fathers overall, and misses an opportunity to work on one of the most important issues of our time: Shared parenting.

Most single parents are not married

[Note, 67% of millennial moms have at least one child outside of marriage — which only underscores Michelle’s focus on divorced dads as especially out of step with the times.]

Being a liberal feminist who personally loves Michelle Obama for all the reasons she is so lovable — intelligence, grace, wit, outspoken on issues of importance, beauty, and a seemingly incredible model of a happy, modern family consisting of two professional parents — I am sourly disappointed in the first lady.

Her comparison to the most incompetent, immoral president in this country’s history to a divorced father is completely out of touch with public sentiment — not to mention blatantly sexist.

Fatherlessness is institutionalized by culture, family courts

To give Michelle a dose of benefit-of-doubt, her dismissal of separated dads mirrors a wide-reaching cultural sentiment that dismisses fathers as incompetent, inferior parents. This is reflected in the misguided canonization of the stay-at-home mom, and plays out in the sexist norms of family courts that either explicitly decide, or largely inform the family structure of the country’s 14 million separated families:

Kids stay with mom.

Dads get “visits” with their children — typically four days per month.

Dad pays mom, who is rendered financially dependent on her ex.

Both parties are incentivized to under-earn, game the system, and bicker endlessly.

Dads are likely to check out of their childrens’ lives. After all, the entire system, our culture, the kids’ mom, and now Michelle Obama, have decided he is frivolous.

The mom is stuck being an 90% parent in both time and money.

The gender pay gap ensues. The gender wealth gap ensues. Fathelessness ensues.

Children are the biggest losers. [Read all about shared-parenting research here. Facts.]

Michelle Obama hurling “divorced dad” as a casual insult is really an insult to all dads — as well as all moms. We are all victims of the patriarchy that aims to pigeonhole each of us into tidy gender roles.

Related: Letter to the mom whose kids’ dad doesn’t show up and she needs a break

That a progressive feminist like Michelle Obama has blindly succumbed to these sexist stereotypes is especially egregious given her own and her husband’s policy campaigns.

Obama Fatherlessness Initiative

After all, as president, Barak Obama’s Fatherhood Initiative was created with a noble effort to curb the fatherlessness epidemic in this country. Unfortunately, the effort was not ultimately considered a success. To observers of fatherlessness, the reason is clear: The Fatherhood Initiative called on men to step up, show up, and be better, more involved dads.

While this call-to-action addresses a portion of the problem — lack of understanding that fathers are important — Obama’s Fatherlessness Initiative completely misses the big picture:

Dads are not involved with their kids equally because courts and culture prohibit it.

Fatherlessness — and the high dropout, teen pregnancy, addiction, and other social ills associated with it — will not change until we have federal and state reform. Child support and family court laws must change.

Black dads and fatherlessness

This reality hits especially hard in the African American community, only heightening the egregiousness of the first black first lady’s recent insensitive comments.

Black dads, are more likely to be poor, less likely to afford quality legal representation in family court, and are exponentially more likely to accumulate child support arrears that land them in jail.

Jail means no time with their kids, fewer employment opportunities upon release, and an even higher likelihood of re-arrest and more jail time since child support arrears accumulate both principle and interest. Bankruptcy and unemployment — not to mention reasonable ability to pay — have no bearing on this cycle.

A dad stuck in this arrears-jail cycle is not likely to go to court to fight for more parenting time, because he knows he will be arrested for overdue support.

Feminism and Michelle Obama

Ultimately, dismissing an entire gender as inferior is old-school sexist. I call on First Lady Michelle Obama — a woman in a role that is always rife with questions about her femininity, sexuality, and gender role adherence / thwarting — to heighten her sensitivity here. I also call on her to heighten her activism.

After all, we progressive feminists cringed as Michelle weathered racists’ marking her an “angry black woman” during Barak’s campaign. We shuddered when it was called into question whether it was proper for her official White House portrait to depict her bare [gorgeously ripped] arms. We rolled our eyes when her gender equality efforts were criticized equally for being too politically forward, and also not politically impactful enough.

Which is why I call on you, Michelle Obama, our guiding star in Washington, the media, and as a mom and wife, to apologize. You had a moment in which you gave in to widely held, yet grossly harmful, cliches about men and women and parenthood.

How shared parenting promotes gender equality

I call on you to join us to truly make a difference in fatherhood, and motherhood and gender equality, and join the large and growing — not to mention bipartisan and widely popular — shared parenting. My email is emma@emma-johnson.net. I look forward to hearing from you.

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  1. I love Michelle, I love President Obama however, her statement about divorced dads really struck a nerve with me. The timing on a personal level for me was ALL wrong. My son has been going through a 4 year custody battle with a very vindictive ex. For the first time in 4 years, his 12 year old son has been staying with him for the past 2 weeks and his 4 year old daughter is spending the weekends with him. After the divorce, he could have moved back to his home state to be with family but he didn’t. He stayed there and fought for the right to be a daddy.

  2. Dads suffering divorce (2/3 initiated by the wife) and largely separated from their children (and then supposed to pay support part of which goes to govt) have significantly increased the suicide rate of middle-age men. I know.

  3. This is appalling to say the least. Thank you for speaking up and I will be sure to add my voice in looking for an apology as well!!

  4. ‪That might have been the case 50yrs ago….not so anymore, deadbeat MOMS are on the rise exponentially…look it up ‬

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