Ten months removed from the White House, former first lady Michelle Obama took a subtle swipe at her old home’s current occupant without even using his name. She didn’t need to.
During a conversation with the poet Elizabeth Alexander, Obama offered young people some simple advice on tweeting: Think before you hit send and use spell check.
“When you have a voice, you can’t just use it any kind of way, you know?” she said at the Obama Foundation’s inaugural youth leadership summit in Chicago. “You don’t just say what’s on your mind. You don’t tweet every thought. Most of your first initial thoughts are not worthy of the light of day.”
As the audience laughed, Obama clarified that she was not “talking about anybody in particular, I’m talking about all of us.”
Obama described Twitter as a “powerful weapon that we just hand over to little kids.”
“A 10-year-old, ‘Here you go. Tell it like it is,'” she said. “No you don’t. You need to think and spell it right and have good grammar.”
Obama’s comments were significantly more unbridled than those she made during her family’s eight years in the White House. The conversation with Alexander, a poet who has known the Obama family for several decades, was free-wheeling and included notes on art, how Obama found her own voice and on sexual harassment.
“When we think about women in particular we ask them to speak up. We ask them to speak their mind. We ask them to just say no, to speak out against sexual harassment,” Obama said. “But if we don’t teach our young girls to speak at an early age, that doesn’t just happen. It takes practice to have a voice. You have to use it again, and again, and again before you can say ‘no.’ Or ‘stop.’ ‘Don’t touch me.'”
Obama’s comments come as several of the nation’s high-profile industries, including media and entertainment, have been rocked by allegations of sexual harassment and assault.
She also made a number of observations about parenting and gender, and the differences between raising boys and girls.
Obama said that a lot of her focus as a mother had been thinking about how to make sure her two daughters were “sturdy” and “able to exist…in a world that is dangerous to women.”
“The problem is we love our boys and we raise our girls, you know? We raise them to be strong and sometimes we take care not to hurt men, I think we pay for that a little bit” she said. “It’s powerful to have strong men, but what does that strength mean, you know? Does it mean respect? Does it mean responsibility? Does it mean compassion? Or are we protecting our men too much so they feel a little entitled, you know, a little self righteous sometimes?”
She also discussed how integral her “girlfriends” were to keeping her grounded, and said that men needed to “talk to each other” more.
“Y’all should get you some friends,” she said as she laughed, addressing the men in the audience. “Y’all need to go talk to each other about your stuff because there’s so much of it! Talk about why y’all are the way you are.”