Michelle Obama sat down for a conversation with Shonda Rhimes at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women on Tuesday, where she addressed female empowerment as well as the standards of ethics used in the White House.
Reflecting on the past eight years she spent in the White House alongside her husband, Obama said she admired the respect with which he treated his presidential role. “For the last eight years, we had a standard of ethics, a lot of constraints. What it means to have a commander-in-chief that actually upholds the standards of the White House,” Obama joked.
She also encouraged girls and women to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them, subtly alluding to the current commander-in-chief.
“Don’t waste your seat at the table and if you’re scared to use your voice, then give up your seat to someone who can use it because we can’t afford to waste that opportunity,” Obama said. “I want women to pay attention, because this is what happens when we don’t stand up. We give our seats up to those who are supposed to be there, because of the stereotypes of what power and success is supposed to be.”
Obama discussed the “imposter syndrome” she’s experienced as well. “I’ve been at so many tables and met so many fools who are imposters, but shame on us if we just let an imposter put us down. When you know what’s right and you don’t say anything, you see wrong happening and you sit quietly, that’s what I want women to challenge to be, to speak up. We don’t get to the right answers without raising our voices.”
The former First Lady also addressed the way children can sense inequalities in society, even if they’re not fully aware of what’s going on.
“The thing we cannot forget is that children know when people don’t believe in them or they’re not being invested in,” she said. “Kids know when things are different for them, when they are being quieted or being treated fairly. It’s sort of a shame on us adults when we treat kids like they don’t know.”
Rhimes asked Obama questions about her time in the White House and how it compares to her life now. Obama said that the last ten years of her life, two four-year presidential terms and two years campaigning, felt like she was being shot out of a cannon without time to stop and think about her own feelings.
She also added her condolences to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting, saying that tragedies like this were difficult for her because as the First Lady she wanted to comfort the families but did not always have anything to offer them.
As the discussion came to a close, Rhimes surprised Obama with a video message from her husband thanking her for her constant strength, support, and grace under pressure and also greeting her on their 25th wedding anniversary.