As Michelle Obama launched a State Department commemoration of International Women’s Day, she briefly stumbled over Clinton’s job title. “Let me thank my dear friend, Senator – Secretary Clinton. I almost said, ‘President Clinton,’ ” said the first lady to laughter and applause. “But let me thank you for that kind introduction, and most of all thank you for your friendship, thank you for your support, and thank you for your indispensable advice in getting me through this first year and helping me figure out how to get my family settled in our new life in D.C.”
The exchange stood as another rebuke to a favored theme of the Beltway pundit set: that tensions between the Obamas and the Secretary of State still run high. More than that, though, the series of events that the first lady presided over drew wider attention to the stubborn lags in gender equality beyond the developed Western world. Both women stressed this issue in their respective speeches. As Secretary Clinton put it, the world “can’t solve problems of financial crisis, climate change, disease and poverty if half of the population is left behind.”
Monday marked the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. The day doesn’t get a great deal of attention within the United States, but many other countries honor it with a national holiday. Nations that officially honor it are far flung, ranging from China and Russia to Macedonia and Vietnam. Some countries will encourage men to lavish gifts on the women in their lives, in the tradition of greeting-card holidays like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Other countries promote women-only commemorations of the day, with all-female parties and dinners.
The first lady also picked up on these ideas of stronger public recognition for women in her remarks on Monday, when the White House hosted its own event marking the importance of the March 8th holiday. “I get to speak while he stands and watches,” the first lady announced, as the president looked on. She then told the president, “Look at me adoringly,” to laughter from the crowd. He obliged with the reply, “I can do that”-whereupon she mock-chided him with the follow-up command, “With sincerity.”