Michelle Obama gave a speech in Buenos Aires Wednesday morning to a group of young Argentine women eager to see the First Lady of the United States, as well as their own president’s wife, Juliana Awada.
Michelle used the opportunity to speak about bringing her “Let Girls Learn” initiative to Argentina, a project which seeks to provide young women with educational opportunities and inspire them to strive for lofty goals.
Obama spoke about her own youth growing up in a neighborhood in Chicago similar to the one she was giving her speech from in Buenos Aires. Michelle said that while her family grew up with few resources, she was rich in a supportive family.
Once she was outside of the home, Obama was constantly told she was not capable of certain accomplishments because of her gender. Some of these indicators were subtle, like Michelle watching boys get called on in class instead of girls.
“But by the time I began to attend school I started to encounter people with less faith in my abilities to reach my goals. People who didn’t think I was smart enough and would call on the boys instead of the girls, even though the girls had better grades. Asking my brother what career plan he had, but me what kind of man I wanted to marry.”
Obama’s speech also touched on another common problem for women around the world: street harassment. Michelle complained about how the practice made girls feel objectified instead of independent.
“As I got older, I found that men would whistle at me as I walked down the street, as if my body were their property, as if I were an object to be commented on instead of a full human being with thoughts and feelings of my own. I began to realize that the hopes I had for myself were in conflict with the messages I was receiving from people around me.”
While her message may sound relatively innocuous, Obama still received a backlash from some of in the country. Although Michelle mentioned both current Buenos Aires Province Gov. Maria Eugenia Vidal and child hunger activist Margarita Barrientos, some were left unsatisfied on social media. Many particularly faulted Obama for leaving out Eva “Evita” Perón, one of the key advocates of women’s suffrage in Argentina.
Michelle Obama gave first speech in history about the epic role of women in Argentina that leaves out Eva Perón and Madres de Pza de Mayo.
— Ernesto Semán (@ErnestoSeman) March 23, 2016
-do you kwow eva peron?
michelle obama : i’m sorry, who??
— Andrés Ignacio (@Ainfranco) March 23, 2016
These criticisms should be taken in context with the rest of Michelle’s arrival to the country. While the Obamas landed in Argentina to see American flags flying in Buenos Aires’ central plaza, many Argentines were outraged by the gesture. Part of that anger has to do with timing. The first family landed just two days before the 40th anniversary of Argentina’s U.S.-backed military coup d’état, which led to a regime that left 30,000 dead. As if this violent stain on the country’s relationships wasn’t enough, Argentina’s sovereign debt crisis is playing out in U.S. courts.
The combination of these two factors has been fatal. According to the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of Argentines hold a negative few of the United States, the ninth highest of any country in the survey.
While those figures might not necessarily reflect the attitude toward Barack and Michelle Obama as individuals, the response to their visit seems to indicate that their presence is as controversial in Argentina as they country they hail from. Even if people clap after their speeches, a crowd chanting “Get out, Obama!” is not far away.
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]