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Opinion

Criticism of Sasha and Malia Obama Highlights Common Sexist Double Standard

In the United States of America, we don’t have a royal family, but we do have a first family, and it’s one that remains embroiled in tradition.

The first lady is the elegant, feminine hostess, and the president, the ultimate patriarchal figure. And as for the first daughters, there’s no shortage of puritanical standards for ladylike properness that they’re held to.

Under this administration, fortunately, as adults, Ivanka and Tiffany Trump are less subjected to guidelines that are especially strict for young women. But despite the fact that they’ve since vacated the White House, Sasha, 16, and Malia Obama, 19, remain as scrutinized as ever.

From The Daily Beast:

This weekend, at Chicago’s annual Lollapalooza music festival, Sasha was pictured kissing a young man named Matt Metzler. The picture, of course, has gone wide—along with the misguided notion that the Obamas are bad parents for letting their 16-year-old daughter kiss a boy at a music festival. It’s similar to the right-wing’s persecution of her older sister, Malia, where so-called reporters have stalked her at parties to get photos of her drinking and having fun.

A common courtesy and rule of thumb in American politics is that no matter how nasty things can get between politicians and their adversaries, you leave their families out of it. But then again, when have Obama adversaries, who founded the hateful, racist conspiracy theory that he wasn’t born in America just because he’s not white, ever really abided by common courtesy?

Social media accounts have obviously wasted no time in attacking Barrack and Michelle Obama for purported shortcomings in their parenting abilities, but worse yet, have set out to characterize Sasha and Malia as “bad seeds.”

For his own part, President Obama and a number of other U.S. presidents have been open about previously experimenting with marijuana and recreational drugs, and he went on to become the President. Suggesting that occasional smoking or drinking in social settings, kissing boys, and essentially living the life of a teenage girl in the 21st century define young women as this or that or decide the fates of their adult lives isn’t just an enormous, unnecessary weight on their shoulders — it’s also plain sexist.

Just generally speaking, teenage boys don’t have to be mindful of how they dress, of showing this or that and consequently being called this or that; they’re taunted for not drinking, smoking, or going to parties. Kissing girls and having fun don’t define whether or not they’re considered good, decent people. This double standard applies to all teenage girls across the board, and this gendered scrutiny is only amplified for teenage girls in the public eye, and teenage girls who are the daughters of  political leaders.

To be fair, it’s hard to say how teenage first sons would be treated by media, since it’s been a long while since we had any of those. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see how Barron Trump fares over the next few years, although an SNL writer calling the youngest Trump the ‘first homeschool shooter’ in an attempt at humor isn’t exactly a good sign.

Of course, it’s not just first daughters. Young women in general are forced to mature and grow up far earlier than their male counterparts, because their behavior is held to higher standards. At 39-years-old, Don Jr. is still President Trump‘s “good boy.”  Former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly has argued there’s no way Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law Jared Kushner could be guilty of colluding with Russia because he “looks like a high school senior.”

But perhaps this isn’t a standard for all men, across the board. African-American youth don’t have the privilege of being held as innocent, prodigal “good boys” through adulthood — they don’t even have it as children. Tamir Rice was 12-years-old when he was shot dead by police for the great crime of holding a toy gun while being perceived as an adult black man.

The luxury of having any behavioral shortcomings — perceived and actual — dismissed with the good ol’ “boys will be boys” tagline from childhood through adulthood is one Sasha and Malia, who never chose to become first daughters, to enter the public eye, or severely constrain their social circles for their own safety, had to grow up without. It’s also one that nearly every teenage girl and everyone but white men have had to grow up without, too.

In either case, there’s a reason their mother and father never cede an opportunity to vocalize just how proud of them they are — it’s that the former first daughters have done so with tremendous grace and respect. And that’s something that no amount of right-wing shaming can take away from them.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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