Obama invited Streep for a visit to the White House to conduct the interview for More magazine’s summer issue. Their candid conversation focused on the modern challenges women face, which included reflections on their mentors growing up, to raising their daughters to become strong women, to the legacies they want to leave behind. To be able to be a part of a conversation between two incredibly accomplished, strong, modern women is a real treat. Even more special? Thanks to More magazine, we have a preview of what they discussed.
On the inspirational female mentors in their lives:
Meryl Streep: My mentor was my mother. [She] walked into a room and lit it up, and people were sad when she left. That, to me, is what really matters: who you touch and how. She was a mentor because she said to me, “Meryl, you’re capable. You’re so great.” She was saying, “You can do whatever you put your mind to. If you’re lazy, you’re not going to get it done. But if you put your mind to it, you can do anything.” And I believed her. And she said it from the time I was little. And that made me arrogant. [laughs]
Michelle Obama: It’s so interesting, because what you say about your mom is a mirror image of what I think about mine. If I point to anything that makes me who I am, it’s that I have a whole lot of common sense. I’ve got a good mind and a good ability to read people and situations. A lot of that is because that’s who my mother is.
She raised us to do things [she was] afraid to do. So many women hold their kids tight because of their own fears. My mom pushed us out there… She was able to understand that she shouldn’t pass on her fears to us. I try to emulate that for my kids: not suffocating them with my mess.
On raising their daughters to be strong in a world that can be tough on girls:
MO: I talk to them a lot. One of the things my mom always said to me is, “You’re not raising children; you’re raising human beings,” so create an open line of communication as early as possible. Now that my kids [Malia, 17, and Sasha, 14] are teenagers, they can often go to their peers for advice. I try to remind them that I actually do know the answers and that I don’t want them getting their best advice from another 14-year-old.
I never lecture them about self-confidence. You sneak those conversations in when you’re talking to them about their friendships, or about the challenges they faced in a game or something that their dad said that made them mad. That’s when I find they’ll hear the messages most.
MS: People will say to me, “You’ve played so many strong women…” and I’ll say, “Have you ever said to a man, ‘You’ve played so many strong men?'” No! Because the expectation is [men] are varied. Why can’t we have that expectation about women? My girls [Mamie, 32; Grace, 29; and Louisa, 24] came into the world strong — which was terrifying. [laughs]
On the biggest obstacle facing girls today:
MO: Education, education, education. There are too many kids who think high school is a pit stop to fame and fortune. I want girls in this country to think education is the coolest, most important thing they could ever do in their lives.
MS: I agree… But there’s another specific challenge facing women and girls right now: We’re viewed as equals — but we’re still not there yet. For the first time, we have the expectation that we can have a broad array of choices, that we could lead in almost any part of society. And yet we face resistance. We see that here at home in our government — in the House and the Senate. We see that in our boardrooms. We see that in Hollywood. The challenge for our girls, I think, is dealing with that resistance. How can we lift and defuse it, how do we make it so our equality is not so threatening? Our girls are going to have to contend with that. I contend with it right now in every realm I operate in.