Barack Obama talks in KL of having a ‘strong partner’ in marriage, emphasises role of women in society

Audrey Edwards
Former US president Barack Obama speaks during the ‘How the Asia-Pacific Shaped Us’ event in Kuala Lumpur December 13, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 13 — Barack Obama married his wife because she is a strong woman.

“I had a strong partner who had confidence and they were going to be okay,” he said when speaking of running to be the president of the United States.

“They had a community: my mother-in-law, Michelle’s friends and neighbours who made sure that the kids were fine during those periods that I was gone.”

The former president of the United States was taking questions from participants of the Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Programme.

The programme is a one-year leadership development programme that seeks to inspire, empower and connect emerging leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region.

He earlier spoke at a plenary session “How the Asia-Pacific Shaped Us” that was moderated by his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng.

He is married to Michelle Obama and they have two children.

Obama jokingly spoke of his wife and kids again when he was asked about when was the last time he had an “ego check”.

“Didn’t Michelle say she wanted to push me out of window yesterday?

“Let me tell you something. When I spoke about defending the women earlier, if I hadn’t said that, man, I would’ve been in so much trouble.”

He added that when it came to ego checks, he had a strong wife and children who were not impressed with him.

“They love me but they think I’m just another dad who embarrasses them, makes bad jokes. I’m often checked by them.

“The good news is when you have a partner like Michelle who checks your ego when she says you are not good, she’s telling you the truth and that is enough.”

He added that it was not a “two-way street” citing the time he teased Michelle when they were dating after she had made fun of his ears, talked or walked.

“I asked her why she was mad. You’ve teasing me for months. This is a little joke. She said, ‘Listen. There’s a rule, I can tease you, you can’t tease me.

“I’m living by that rule. I don’t mind.”

On the topic of women in society, Obama emphasised that from the perspective of a head of state, the best indicator was to look at whether a certain country was educating its girls and how they treated women.

“Countries that do a bad job are doing badly economically. Women are the ones doing most of the child work. If it’s an educated mother, those children are going to be educated.”

He jokingly added: “And if I have young staff who just got married, I tell them to think about the mother of your kids. If she’s cute but stupid, that’s going to be a problem later.”

He said that a woman did not have to be rude or talk all the time.

“Just be mindful to make room for yourself. A room that has no women leadership, then you are probably part of the problem.”

Obama added that six months into his presidency, he had noticed that the women on his senior staff were not talking during meeting.

“I knew they knew more than the men. And the men, well, they had their opinions.

“After a while, I would have to call on them to ask them what they think. They worked on the issue. And when they spoke, they had amazing insights.

“It is just the small habits of being less assertive in meetings. There is also that they are not heard as much. Sometimes, a woman would make a point and a guy would make the same point 10 minutes later. It’s so annoying. And I’d say, ‘she just said that’.”