Remarks by the First Lady, Lena Dunham and Julianne Moore at the American Magazine Media Conference in New York City
MS. SEYMOUR: All right, ladies. Okay, let's rock today. (Laughter.) We're going to have fun.
MRS. OBAMA: Hi, everyone. (Laughter.)
MS. SEYMOUR: Thank you guys so much for coming. We're so excited. Everybody here is thrilled to have you. I have to see what I'm saying here.
So let's start with you, Mrs. Obama. As a guest editor of More Magazine last year, the magazine focused a lot on your latest initiative: Let Girls Learn.
And we did an event for Let Girls Learn in D.C., as well. Why did you choose a magazine -- since these are all magazine executives out here -- as your vehicle? And why, in particular, for this initiative?
MRS. OBAMA: Well, magazines are still the best vehicle to tell a detailed long story, to really go in-depth and paint a picture. And when we launched Let Girls Learn, it was important for us to make sure that people understood the issue and that we could engage readers to take action. So what better partner than More Magazine. We were just so thrilled that you were willing to invest the time and the space and the energy to tell that story.
And not just to put it in your magazine, but, Leslie, you traveled with me to Cambodia. That's dedication.
MS. SEYMOUR: Oh, yes, that was good.
MRS. OBAMA: And you got to see firsthand the struggles that many of these girls are facing, and you talked about those in your speech. You all saw that in the video -- 62 million girls today are not in school, and the consequences are devastating. Girls who aren't educated have higher rates of HIV. They have higher rates of infant mortality. They have lower wages. This impacts not just the individual girls, but their families, their communities, and an entire nation. And you did such an excellent job in painting that picture because you were on the ground and you could make that investment.
So now because of that story, because of the articles you wrote, because of that issue, we have a place to drive people to action. They have the substance. They have the comprehensive message.
So now we can partner with social media to do the driving piece to create that buzz. But it's helpful to have something for them to go to. So if we want these young girls to get involved by using the hashtag #62milliongirls, they can go back to the More piece and really go in-depth. You can't do that with limited characters or with a six-second Vine video. Only magazines can really make that happen, so we're grateful. And we had a lot of fun doing it.
MS. SEYMOUR: We did have a lot of fun.
MRS. OBAMA: We had a really good time. Our teams work well together, and we're just so grateful to be able to highlight this issue.
MS. SEYMOUR: Good. And I felt it was wonderful for you to have an actual archive of what you felt. And again, it's something you can keep on your table. You can pass along to your kids. Can you just mention that you knew when you had success when your Mom read it? That was the -- this is really funny.
MRS. OBAMA: Oh, yes. My mom doesn't pay attention to anything I do. (Laughter.) It's really sad. She still loves my brother more. (Laughter.) But I'm okay. I'm getting over it. (Laughter.)
But when she said, you're on the cover on More? And she actually took the magazine up to her room, and she read every word -- every single word. So that just tells you the power of the magazine to really reach readers in an in-depth way, something she hasn't done in a while. She doesn't read my speeches. She doesn't look at my clips. She read More.
MS. SEYMOUR: That's how we knew we did good is when we heard that her mom ran upstairs, read it, came downstairs and said it's great. Then we all breathed a sigh of relief. We were actually happy.
Can you talk just briefly about how as an American -- when I look at getting a girl in school in Cambodia, how does that affect me? Why should I care? Why does that matter to my life? Because you actually have facts and figures that it does.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, well, the President drew on it. Girls who are educated, they earn more money. They raise healthier families. Some studies show that for every extra year of secondary education that a girl gets, that increases her earning potential by as much as 15 percent. So this isn't just good for this country. We have more educated, empowered people in the world buying products and producing goods, and spending resources and traveling and learning -- that's going to impact our economy, as well.
One of the reasons why I like to have young girls at the events that we do around Let Girls Learn is because I want them to be inspired, as well. I want girls here -- and young people broadly in the United States to really understand this issue, because a lot of times here we take our education for granted because it's so accessible here. We're blessed to live in a country where kids have access to school, and it's important for these kids to know that there are girls who would give anything to trade places with the kids in this country.
So we want to make sure that they're empowered to take advantage of the resources that they have, and that they get their education and develop the skills so that they can be part of making change for these 62 million girls. This is about all of our lives. Okay, young ladies? (Laughter.)
MS. SEYMOUR: From what I heard backstage when you were taking pictures, there are 20 sets of hands that are not getting washed ever again. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Well, you have to wash your hands.
MS. SEYMOUR: So there's going to be a problem.
MRS. OBAMA: They're going to wash their hands because all their nails are really nice. So they're going to keep their hands clean.
So, Julianne and Lena, we all know that education is a foundation for all of us in what we do. Can you talk a little bit about how your respective educations have shaped you and how it's given you a voice to speak out? Who wants to jump in?
MS. DUNHAM: I'll start. I grew up right here in New York City and was very, very lucky to have -- there is both great public and private education options in New York. I happened to go to a private school that was very focused on the arts and focused on alternative ways of learning. So I went to a school in Brooklyn called St. Ann's that allowed me in high school to be taking poetry class, to be the head of the student-directed plays program, to be creating literary magazines and starting our own newspaper. And there was a real sense at our school that it was not only an option, but our obligation to create sort of institutions that would benefit us and benefit other students.
And we also didn't get grades there, which is either great or a terrible thing depending on -- it's great when you're in high school. It's confusing when you get to college. (Laughter.)
And then I spent my college career at Oberlin College in Ohio, which is a school that I'm really proud to have graduated from. It was the first school in America to admit both women and people of color. And that's a really great legacy. And it has an incredibly progressive agenda. And the motto of the school is: Learning and Labor. So really encouraging people to both take their education seriously and also to make volunteerism and activism a part of their education on a day-to-day basis. And I did get grades there. I'm happy to say they were always fabulous. (Laughter.)
But I think those two programs in tandem were incredible. And I feel really lucky because I talk to so many people who felt like their education actually wasn't a formative part -- they didn't have close relationships with teachers. They didn't feel connected to what they were doing. And I was lucky enough to go to two schools where I felt an extreme sense of loyalty and purpose to the institution.
And I also want to say, I was -- something that's come to my attention in recent years is I was very lucky that I was able to have parents who were able to pay for my education. And so I left school without student debt. And so that is a very rare and blessed position to be in. And so it's very important to me to talk about ways that we can alleviate the barriers that stand between women and education so that your education isn't something you carry with you on your back every single day for the rest of your life.
MS. SEYMOUR: Julianne, you moved around a lot? So you were the new kid, your dad was in the Army?
MS. MOORE: My father was in the Army so I went to public schools all over the United States, and then eventually in Germany. My parents really value education because they didn't get their college degrees until after the three of us were born, and my father was out of Vietnam.
So they subsequently both got their -- my father got a law degree, and my mother got two master's. And so for them, the idea was that we were all going to be -- we were all going to have higher education. We were going to go to college, go to graduate school. And it wasn't -- I wouldn't be an actor, however, if I didn't have a teacher in Germany, an English teacher tell me that I should be an actor, which was anathema to me because I'd never seen a play. I'd never met a real actor. I only watched TV and movies. It seemed very, very far away.
But she said to me when I was 16, I think you can do this. And here are some schools that you can apply to. And I went home to my parents and said, I'm going to be an actress. (Laughter.) And they were so upset. (Laughter.) But to their credit, they said, okay, you can go to college for acting. But it has to be a college, not a conservatory, because you must have a degree. If it doesn't work out, you should be able to go to graduate school or pursue something else.
So with that in mind, with that idea that -- it was interesting having a teacher acknowledge that there was something that I could do that she had seen in me, that was transformative. And that happened in a public school system when I was 16 years old.
I read something later on that sometimes that's what kids need to achieve, they need an adult outside of the family member to acknowledge them, to recognize them, to see what they can do and encourage them. And that's what happens in education. And that's what makes you develop. That's what makes you become the person that you eventually are.
If that doesn't happen, if you don't have that opportunity, if you don't live in a community where people don't see you, you don't grow. You don't develop.
MS. SEYMOUR: Mrs. Obama, do you want to say something about that? Because you talk a lot about reaching out and changing people's lives and someone acknowledging you when you were very young?
MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely. I grew up like Julianne, but we didn't travel. My parents were working-class folks. They didn't go to college. But there was something about their upbringing that knew that -- where they knew that college was an expectation. It was a must-do, even though it wasn't something that they achieved.
But I didn't always get that encouragement because there were some teachers that I ran into who doubted that a girl like me -- a black girl from the South Side of Chicago -- should apply to Princeton or could get into Harvard. And that's a lot of times what these girls that we talk about face. They face a lot of cultural barriers. Maybe those barriers are coming from within their own families, within their own communities, where somebody is telling them that girls shouldn't get an education, that you stay home and work and get married early, and take care of your family; or that you're not smart enough; or that you're not good enough to get an education.
But as I told the girls in Cambodia, our job is to push past those doubters and to find those caring adults that see the positive in us because they are out there. Because for all the people that told me I couldn't do it, I had parents who believed deeply in my ability to do whatever I wanted to do. I had a big brother who thought I was awesome, even though my mother loves him better than me. (Laughter.) It's okay, though. I still like him.
But we all -- as young women -- we have to find those people in our lives and grasp onto those positive messages and put the doubters out of our mind.
And then when we do achieve, we have to reach back and help others because whatever drove you to succeed, you've got to help another young person in your life find that for herself. And if we do that, we will not lose the potential of all these girls who go uneducated. We've got too many problems in the world to let half of our population go without the skills and development they need to contribute.
You guys are going to be the next movers and shakers, the people who are going to solve climate change, who are going to deal with terrorism, who are going to deal with poverty and hunger. And we need you smart and ready and confident in your abilities. And we need girls around the world to all have that opportunity so that they can be sitting here like the three of us, talking about all that we've achieved. (Applause.)
MS. SEYMOUR: All right. So we'll get to the topic at hand, which is: Media With Purpose. So we'll start with Mrs. Obama. When you agreed to be the guest editor of More -- or when you sit down with YouTube sensation Michelle Phan, who was with us in Japan, or you agree to be part of an episode of "Project Runway Junior" to lift girls up, how do you make that decision? And why?
MRS. OBAMA: We really think about the audience that we're trying to reach. It's simple: Who are we trying to get our message to? And oftentimes, we're trying to talk to young people. And as mom living with two Generation Zers, I think that's what you all are called. You're Zers -- teens with an attitude. I've got two of them in my house. (Laughter.) So I know that the way they take in the world is very different from the way I did growing up.
They're on their phones, and they're -- what's this called, swiping?
MS. SEYMOUR: Scrolling.
MRS. OBAMA: I think it's swiping. Swiping.
MS. SEYMOUR: Swiping. Sorry, that's old speak.
MRS. OBAMA: You don't scroll, you swipe. You're swiping, and they're sharing Vines. And they're laughing at stuff on their phones. They're not watching the evening news. They're not reading The New York Times. No offense, but they're not. So we have to try to reach them where they are.
So we find the programs and the people and the role models that they look up to, and we engage. So in dealing with that particular audience, we have to be nimble. We can't just do what was traditionally done. We have to figure out if we really want kids to engage in these issues, if we really want young girls in the United States to care about their education and eat better and be more active. We have to talk to them where they are. And they are talking to Michelle Phan. And they may be looking at how she does makeup. But if she turns her platform into something positive, which she understood, they're going to start listening to her on other issues, as well. So we're with Michelle Phan.
So everything is fair game if you really want to be effective in getting your message across, particularly if you want to attract young people.
MS. SEYMOUR: And, Lena, do you want to talk a little bit about -- there is a tsunami of media out there. There are magazines, newspapers, every single channel you could imagine. YouTube. Why would you start a newsletter?
MS. DUNHAM: It's a great question, and one I ask myself every day. (Laughter.)
MS. SEYMOUR: And it's a great newsletter, by the way. I have to tell you. I love it. It's very literary. It's fabulous.
MR. DUNHAM: Thank you very much, and we really appreciate it. And it's been a real learning experience. I have an incredible staff that works with me. Most of them are women under 30 who are far savvier than me about what's happening on the Internet. And I think Mrs. Obama said it best when she said that there are certain things that you can't express within the character limitations of Twitter. And you can't expect there to be a healthy dialogue that takes place in that kind of finite forum.
And something that was really important to me was that I know as a younger woman -- I'm now approaching 30, but in my early 20s, I felt very --
MRS. OBAMA: You're still young. (Laughter.) Babies. Like, whoa, what?
MS. MOORE: She's not 30. (Laughter.)
MS. DUNHAM: I feel deeply aged, but thank you for reminding me. But I know that politics for me, I felt very disenfranchised. And it was really hard for me to sift through media and understand. I wish someone would just make a map for me. What should I care about? Who should I vote for? What are the issues that are affecting me? And how do I find a way to get a grasp on them?
And so while Lenny Letter has plenty of articles about nail care and the kind of goofier sides of reproductive health, and plenty of stuff to satisfy an audience that may want to be amused and a little bit titillated, a huge focus for us is highlighting politicians -- many female politicians, pro-choice, who care about reproductive justice, who care about the Black Lives Matter movement, who care about the issues that are the most important to our readers, and really letting millennial women into the lives of these politicians. So doing a new, more intimate kind of interview with anyone from Lucy Flores, to Donna Edwards -- women who are changing the conversation in the country and who these girls may not find out about -- may not go deep enough into the Times to find about it, because I know that I didn't. And so that's been -- it's been really amazing to see so many young women engage with the political process when given the tools to do so.
And that was a huge impetus for us in starting the newsletter. And every time we get a Tweet or an Instagram that says that, hey, today I went out and rallied for this particular politician. Or I think I'm going to vote in the primary this year. We know that it was worth it to begin.
MS. SEYMOUR: That's awesome. That's great.
Julianne, do you want to talk a little bit about aligning yourself with Everytown USA?
MS. MOORE: Yes. (Laughter.) Actually, it was a media moment that sort of led me to it. It was interesting. I had been very affected obviously by experiencing gun violence in our culture. But I was affected as a citizen, as a parent, and it was something that I would talk about, and I'd kind of lament about. And I would tweet about it.
And I was doing an article for the Hollywood Reporter last year. It was a cover story, and it was just about my career and my experiences, and what I was interested in artistically, and blah, blah, blah. At the very end of the article, he asked me -- the writer asked me, did I get a blowback on Twitter about being pro-choice. I said, actually, no, I didn't. I got most of my blow-back about gun safety.
And my quote was, I don't understand how gun safety somehow threatens the Second Amendment, which I thought was a pretty safe point and not at all inflammatory. And they ran a headline that said, Julianne Moore does not believe in guns.
And I was like, wow. (Laughter.) Wow.
MS. SEYMOUR: That would be one for your agent, right?
MS. MOORE: Yes, I was like, how does this happen? How did something that was really meant to be kind of a practical and a common-sense comment turned into click bait.
So I said, well, what can I do about this? And I feel like there were so many people that were running from the issue of gun safety and gun violence because of the blowback they were getting, because of those kinds of headlines, because suddenly some people who were saying, this is unconstitutional. This is against the Second Amendment, people are trying to take away guns, and I'm like, that's not the point at all. I wanted to change the culture around talking about guns. I want to talk about commonsense. I want to shape the gun industry like the car industry. That was a very dangerous machine that was invented, and people were -- there were tremendous fatalities, and slowly, with different kinds of legislation, with seatbelts and airbags and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, we changed the culture around driving. And then that automobile became slightly less dangerous. Why can't we do the same with guns?
So I thought, okay, I know that actors are reluctant to talk about this because of that blowback, but how I can align myself with an organization that I admire and really begin to kind of get out there. So I went through contacts on my computer and just literally went through them and said, hey, I'm doing this thing, you don't have to do much, but this is really about safety. And I was also using marriage equality as an example, that we're going to go state by state by state and really slowly change hopefully laws and awareness. And people signed up. Because I felt like we are ready to do something. I mean, the President has actually taken amazing action just recently, and really has talked about how do we make it less possible for dangerous individuals to have guns. This is not something that's anti-Constitution. So that's why I feel like I was able to gather people around me, because it really was about commonsense and not about, I don't know, starting a Twitter war.
MS. SEYMOUR: Okay. Stay away from the Twitter wars. We're going to talk about that. Okay, Lena, you've written a lot of inspiring articles that empowered women everywhere. Tell us about why sharing your personal story -- you get extremely personal -- why is that important to engaging a reader? Because we all in the media know personal is better, but maybe you're even out on the frontline of personal?
MS. DUNHAM: Well, I think the old adage the personal is political has never been more true. And the fact is, is that people need to feel a connection to an issue in order to take action. And I think that one of the things that's so amazing about watching that Let Girls Learn video that you just showed is that you're not just talking about it -- we're seeing these girls and seeing the joy on their faces, and seeing what happens when you put young women in the way of education.
And so an example is that I suffer from endometriosis, which is an illness that many women have in the United States and that is highly under -- women's health in general is highly under-researched and highly underfunded. And many doctors are ignorant about its effects. And it's easy to write a piece with statistics -- the massive gap between how we research diabetes and how we research women's health. Massive gap between how we research men with heart attacks and how we research women's health. And while I don't have my sheet in front of me, it's an alarming gap in the way we examine those issues.
And so I could have gone on Lenny and just talked about the specifics of the statistics and the lack of funding, but what felt to me both personally gratifying and more effective was to talk about what I had been through in the 10 years before my diagnosis. And the outpouring of support and also the outpouring of questions and interest in how can we be helpful and how can we change the conversation around this illness so that women feel less alone and feel less cared for was remarkable.
And I don't believe I would have gotten that result if I hadn't sort of taken the chance and shared some details that were really painful and what some might consider TMI because it does deal with a very specific part of your body. And it was amazing. And since then, just on Instagram and Twitter, I've seen the conversation flourish. I've seen pieces in The Guardian about endometriosis -- long, investigative pieces on why are we dealing with women's health the way that we are. And so I think that when you allow people into your story, it resonates with them in a new way, and they want to take the issue on in a way that they wouldn't when they were just presented with numbers.
MS. SEYMOUR: Along that line, Mrs. Obama, I was going to ask you about girls education is such a personal topic for you, so in a very similar way, how does putting your story out there connect you to the girls?
MRS. OBAMA: When you're the First Lady or you're an actress, or you're larger in life to many girls living in poor communities, living in urban cities, not just here in the United States but around the world, you seem untouchable. They look at you and they think there's no way I can be here. There's no way I could do that, because there must have been some magic in her life, some luck, some charm. She must have a special potion going on.
And for me, it is so important for kids, in particular, to understand that I am them, they are me. That I was in their shoes, literally, and if I can be sitting up here, Princeton/Harvard educated First Lady of the United States having run nonprofit organizations and practiced law and worked as a vice president of an academic medical institution and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, you can do it, too. But you don't get that if all they see is Michelle Obama, the First Lady. That's too untouchable.
So I feel it's so important to connect to these kids so that they can see themselves in me. So that they push all that impossibility out of their heads and they replace that with the notion that with hard work and investment and dedication, that they can achieve.
Now, it's not as easy for girls in countries that don't invest in their education. But it's still not impossible. And we have to be those role models for them. But in order to do that, we have to be vulnerable and we have to tell our stories in an honest and authentic way. And you can't do that if you're trying to be something that you're not. If you're not willing to connect and share and talk about your own fears and missteps. It makes us more human, and so they think that they can be sitting here too, and they can. So I think it's just essential
MS. SEYMOUR: So, Julianne, talk about a quote that you had, which was really wonderful. "What you gain as an actor is a sense of empathy. You're trying to put yourself in someone's shoes and see what that feels like." Now, all actors do this, but not all of them take on the issues that you take on. So what are the moral and ethical obligations of being an entertainer today?
MS. MOORE: That's an interesting question. I was listening to NPR the other day. I was driving uptown to get my daughter, and there was a scientist being interviewed and talking about medical research and the ethics of medical research and how do you participate in it. And one of the things that she said that really touched me was that, as human beings, we have a social contract with one another. That's what allows us to live with one another, that's what allows you to stop at a red light, to know that you should give somebody a hand when they've fallen down, to do research into disease. And I do believe that it's the same with the arts. It sounds -- not to be kind of highfalutin about it or anything like that, but I do think that you enter into it because you're trying to figure out, first of all, who you are, and who everybody else is.
And when I talk to young people about what drew me to acting, I always say it was reading first. It's not that I had an instinct to be a performer. I don't actually innately like that, but I like story, I like narrative because that's how I learned about the world.
And thing two, when I was younger, when I was a kid, I would read a book and say, well, how do they know that about me? (Laughter.) And then I'd realize, well, it was about them. But the universal was what was connecting us. So when I found a way to do that in my work, it was utterly thrilling. And the best thing that I -- the best compliment I've received is when somebody said, that was me, that was my story. So that's what you're always trying to do with your work -- is to figure out where you and this character and the audience connects. Because you're trying to -- the audience comes to see themselves. They don't come to see you. They come to see their hopes and dreams and feelings reflected. So that, to me, is the most exciting thing.
And then in terms of what you're talking about, telling a personal story with charities as well, and what magazines allow you to do when they do ask you something personal, is to reveal that and to say, this is who I am and this is why I care, and it's reflected in my work. And even with an issue like gun violence or gun safety, I feel like I've very representative of my audience. I'm a woman with children who works, who cares about these things, cares about their children's safety, and I say this is what I was doing when Newtown happened -- what were you doing? And everybody is like, oh yeah.
So once again, it's about entering -- the idea of entering into that social contract in your work and in your life and in your relationships is kind of an exciting and validating way to be alive.
MS. SEYMOUR: Although I will tell you as an editor, and a lot of editors out here know, that sometimes when you ask a celebrity to get personal, they're like, ah! They run away from personal. So that's fantastic that you actually put the two together, which is great.
So let's talk about using media strategically and successfully. And I'm going to start with Mrs. Obama. And I've covered a lot of First Ladies. And usually, they want to keep a distance between them and the audience, between them -- they want to be out there, carefully taken care of, and in a little bubble, but not too much, don't get too close.
So you have done so many kinds of media, and you are reaching out directly. You're reaching out through all social media. What is it that you -- what made you decide to engage so directly, and what have you learned so far? Because you really leapt -- you've leapt right into American lives.
MRS. OBAMA: Well, I think it's just the sign of the times. You think about what -- how different the media climate was in 2008 when we were campaigning before we even came into office. I mean, if you think about it, there was no Twitter, there was no Snapchat. We didn't even have iPhones. We still use BlackBerrys in the White House. We're still hanging onto our BlackBerrys. We love our Blackberrys. But I have an iPhone so I'm trying to hang in there with the times. But things have really changed.
So as a result, if you want to communicate and be effective in communicating your message, these days you really have to be nimble. And you have to be willing to take some risks and try new things and engage on platforms that you might normally not have before, because things are so different today.
I was talking to my staff when we were just talking about this topic, and I said, look, if Eleanor Roosevelt were alive today, I am sure she would have a Twitter account and maybe in addition to her radio program -- (laughter) -- but she would have a Twitter account. Because that's how you communicate these days. So I don't know that I'm doing anything groundbreaking. I'm pretty sure that the next administration, the next first spouse, if they want to be effective in communicating their message -- oh, you caught that? (Laughter.) I'm just being neutral, because, you know, the world is big and interesting. (Laughter.)
But the next first spouse is going to have to figure out how to connect with the audiences they're trying to connect with, and who knows what the new platforms will be in the years to come. There's Vine now. I mean, I still -- my mind is blown by Vine when my staff tells me you have six seconds, I'm like, to do what? (Laughter.) What do you expect me to do in six seconds?
MS. SEYMOUR: Don't ask that question of certain people. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: But I do it! And it works. So you have to be flexible in this current social media climate. And so I'm just -- I want to make sure that the issues that I take on really move the needle. I think that's ultimately my goal. I mean, I don't want to do something just for the sake of doing it. I don't want to have initiatives that are just slogans. It's important, for example, with Let Girls Learns that we actually change the culture around the world about how we educate our girls. So it makes no sense for me to use communication tools that are not reaching the audiences that I need to reach to have that impact. So we have to figure out how those changes are affecting the message every single day.
MS. SEYMOUR: Has anything surprised you about a certain media that you've used in terms of reaching a different audience? Is anything -- when you use Instagram or you use Snapchat, or you use -- and are you -- how are you positioning each one of those things differently?
MRS. OBAMA: I'm different. I'm always surprised when young people tweet so freely. I'm just, gosh, you guys really should think about this stuff. (Laughter.) I want to talk to the young people sitting right here. Okay, you guys be careful with social media. I mean, before I tweet --
MS. DUNHAM: Take it from me, you've got to be careful.
MRS. OBAMA: You've got to be careful. (Laughter.)
MS. SEYMOUR: We're going to bring that up.
MRS. OBAMA: And I'm surprised at how not careful people are. When I tweet, I'm really thinking about what I say, and I've got three people looking it. And we're just like, well, what does that word -- what is that going to communicate? And the notion that people are just throwing out their statements is sometimes surprising. But one of the things we talk about with young people is that you've got to be careful when you use social media.
Know that when you put something out in the world, it lasts, and you can't really take it back that easily. So you have to be responsible. And that goes to bullying and all that stuff that you think is cute when it's just in the classroom and then you put it out there, and it lasts forever, and it can have that kind of impact. So we try to spend a lot of time talking to kids about just the dangers and the challenges.
But I'm still surprised at how freely people are willing to put stuff out there. And I consider myself pretty open, but we still are very thoughtful about what we do and what we say. And rarely do you hear me just -- as my husband would say -- pop off. (Laughter.) I don't just pop off on social media. I really try to be thoughtful and make sure that what we're saying is actually, as I said before, going to move the needle in a positive way.
MS. SEYMOUR: All right, Lena. You're up. Talking about popping off on certain things.
MS. DUNHAM: I pop off sometimes. (Laughter.)
MRS. OBAMA: Lena is popping off.
MS. DUNHAM: Which, you know what, I mean, that's a great term for it. Sometimes popping off can be exciting because it starts a conversation and there's an immediacy to it and people can feel your passion and they join you. And sometimes it's a giant mistake. And it's been a real education for me in the five years that I've been working to really -- I had a Twitter account before anybody knew who I was, and I went back and I erased some things. (Laughter.)
MS. SEYMOUR: Can you erase? I didn't know you can erase.
MS. DUNHAM: Oh, yeah, you can delete a tweet. Take it from me, you can delete a tweet. (Laughter.)
MS. SEYMOUR: All right, okay. (Laughter.) Like if you're a celebrity. I don't know if the average person can delete.
MS. DUNHAM: Oh, we all have that power. And you can edit an Instagram caption. Never forget. (Laughter.) But I think it's really important, as you said, I really do often see young women's presence online and think, like, in three years, you're going to regret not just -- less the way you were representing yourself than the way that you were interacting with other people.
And I actually had a funny experience. This year I was following a friend's daughter on Instagram and there were a lot of -- and I knew that she was letting me follow her, but she wasn't letting her father follow her. And there were posts that I found a little risqué.
And she's 15, and so I really debated doing this -- you never want to interfere with how anyone is raising their child, but I sent him an email and I said, I think you should just check it out, it's a little sensual, if you will. (Laughter.) I'm a little stressed about it. And then he wrote me back, and he said, I checked with her and she says it art.
And I was like, okay, well if you're going to be -- I mean, you know, I was like, I did my job, my job here is done. (Laughter.) I can take no more action. But I do think it's not -- people often say, what will you do later when someone looks you up for a job interview, what will you do when you know you're being -- you want a job in the CIA and you're being checked out. And I think the bigger issue is what follows you around personally, because I will often -- sometimes if someone writes me something hostile on Twitter, which I look at less than I used to, I'll go to their account and I'll realize they're a 14 or 15-year-old kid.
And they're not just dealing with me that way; they're dealing with their classmates that way. They're approaching the world with a level of hostility and anger because of the veil of secrecy that the Internet allows for. And I just think about the way that that -- interacting with people that way will follow you into your life and it won't just have negative consequences for can you get a job or can you make a living, but negative consequences for you emotionally. And I've had to be really careful because I think Julianne has learned through her work talking about gun safety, these are very hot-button topics for people. And you have to walk the line between expressing yourself honestly and protecting yourself because there are a lot of people who have -- there are a lot of people on the Internet who have dangerous mentalities.
MS. SEYMOUR: Julianne, do you have anything about -- I mean, are there any medias that you like to use better for certain reasons or how do you control it?
MS. MOORE: Well, I think it's interesting what they're saying about -- it's short form that actually I feel is pretty dangerous sometimes because you're not allowed to express a complicated idea. So I think it's interesting when you're talking to a room full of people who work in media where they're having these giant changes where people were able to express themselves in essay forms or articles or you put a finer point on something, but this idea that something is going to come out, it's going to be pithy, and it's going to encapsulate an issue one way or another, I think is inherently difficult.
Because life -- issues aren't that way. So it's not yes or no, it's not black or white, it's not I think this, you're an idiot. That's where I find -- that's where I want to slow the conversation down and say, like, let's really talk about this and let's not make everything so black and white all the time. And that is pervading our culture. It comes from the Internet and we see it in television and other forms of media, too. And so I'm really trying to fight against that, but I don't know how.
MS. DUNHAM: People having 140-character opinions about things that they haven't actually read. Like I'm sure plenty of people have plenty of things to say about your Hollywood Reporter interview without engaging in the fullness of your idea about what would be inappropriate --
MS. MOORE: Or the idea wasn't articulated in the article. It was just a one-question thing at the end. But that was an issue -- we were talking about this backstage -- I had an interview with a young woman who kept asking me -- she was from a women's magazine and she was asking me a lot of sort of hot-button political questions. And I kept stonewalling her. And she said, are you uncomfortable with this line of questioning? I said, I do not feel comfortable with how this is going to be expressed in this format. I said, I don't know that these quotes aren't going to be just taken out of context and just made into a headline. I would like to be able to speak eloquently and authentically about this, but I don't know what the format is allowing.
And so you don't want it to be just like, oh, headline.
MS. SEYMOUR: Well, that's why you all have to edit a magazine, because of its doors and it's a document, you know, and it doesn't come and go.
MRS. OBAMA: So everyone should have an opportunity to do that. I highly recommend it.
MS. SEYMOUR: Do you want to talk at all about the Instagram -- that you were on Instagram for a while and then you posted a picture, and did it go kooky? Is that what I heard?
MS. DUNHAM: Did something happen with an Instagram picture -- (laughter) -- because a lot has happened -- maybe you're referring to the fact that I've been fairly public about the fact that I no longer check my own Twitter because I found that the hostility towards women and the expressions of violence were too much. And it's something that I've been very open about because I think Twitter is an important platform, but I think that they, as well as many media platforms -- many Internet media platforms, social media platforms have to be putting more barriers in place for what is ultimately the violent harassment of women.
And just because it's not face-to-face doesn't mean it's not extremely dangerous emotionally; doesn't mean it couldn't transfer into something really terrifying in the real world. And so I stopped checking my -- I started using a social media manager, which I know this is sort of supposed to be the wizard behind the curtain, but I wanted to be open about that to say, hey, you may think that I have a fancy celebrity life where I'm hidden from this kind of thing, but I, too, am experiencing violent bullying on the Internet, and it affects me also. And I think that until new codes of conduct are in place, I'm not going to be able to return to looking at that platform freely.
MS. MOORE: And back to the social contacting, too, the thing about our social contacting -- because it is public, so it's interesting to me that we've developed this weird form of communication where people are not public with their name or their person. And that I think is dangerous. And I wish that there were a way for people to claim their presence on social media so that they reveal themselves. Because I do think that that's not great for us culturally to have that kind of --
MS. SEYMOUR: Yes, I think the anonymity is what the problem is.
MS. DUNHAM: And I think it's important to remember that threats are more than just someone saying, I'm going to come to your house and I'm going to hurt you. Insulting someone's appearance, insulting someone's religion or their race -- all of that, to me, constitutes a threat. And I think we can make changes to how we control that on the Internet without threatening our First Amendment right.
MS. SEYMOUR: So let's talk a little bit about humor, because you guys all have a great sense of humor.
MS. DUNHAM: I've seen her on Fallon. She's --
MS. SEYMOUR: I've seen her with Big Bird. She's pretty good. I've seen her on TV on all kinds of things. So let's start with Mrs. Obama, because you are not afraid of doing humor at all. So how do you think that's gotten your message across? And why is it so effective, especially also for Let Girls Learn, and all your different programs that you have here?
MRS. OBAMA: Humor is an equalizer and it sort of reduces the tension -- it just eases the message. And it's fun. When I look at my girls and what they share, it's usually something funny. That's how you catch them. You catch them with a laugh, or something highly embarrassing or stupid. It's one or the other. But that's what's going to pull them in.
And again, the goal is to be effective and get the message across, so if it means that I've got to rap on the South Lawn, okay, I can do that. (Laughter.) That's fun. And what happens is that it's that funny thing, oh my God, the First Lady is dancing with a turnip -- (laughter.)
MS. SEYMOUR: A lot of dancing in these videos.
MRS. OBAMA: A turnip for what? That's my staff -- they're like, make her dance again. Now we're going to rap. It's like, okay, really? (Laughter.) But it captures the attention. And then behind the humor is hopefully a message or a call to action, or maybe if a kid sings "Go to college and get some knowledge" a few times it will actually sink in, and they'll think, oh, maybe I'll go to college.
So humor is a hook. And it's also a way to once again become a little more relatable. When we talk about Let's Move, for example, just to talk briefly about another issue, we really want to make it less intimidating -- exercise and movement -- so let's think about making it fun. Parents, you can get up and dance with your kid. It doesn't have to be serious. Healthy living can be fun.
So we're just trying to connect -- and have a little fun ourselves in the meantime. There's nothing wrong with having a little fun, right?
MS. SEYMOUR: How do you guys use humor, Julianne and Lena? Is there anything that you regret? Or anything you wish you'd done more humorously?
MS. MOORE: No, never. I mean, no regrets. I look back at my body of work, though, and I think, geez, I seem so serious. I realize I probably do more dramas, but I watch more comedy. So I am -- I'm more affected by that and I'm drawn in by it and I look for it everywhere. I'm actually not very serious when I'm working, even on a set. I'm not a serious person --
MS. SEYMOUR: You're not like Daniel Day Lewis -- you're not staying in character between takes?
MS. MOORE: No. But I think that that's what makes the world go round. That's how we connect. That's how we display our intelligence. That's how we try to impress someone -- we tell a joke. I think Lena is a master at comedy. I mean, truly. Truly.
MS. DUNHAM: I mean, I love comedy both because it's fun and also because it, as you said, has the ability to push the needle forward on issues. And often a joke will stick with you in a remarkable way until, as you said, the issue is really kind of embedded in you. And there's no jokes that I've made in my work as a writer or director or performer that I regret. I would say the only jokes I've made that I regret have been on social media because of the fact that there's this immediacy where you're like, oh, I'm just going to throw it out there, and you forget that you're joking about something that's serious. Whereas when I'm making my show, I have a lot of time to really -- I write the joke, I say the joke, I edit the joke, and I have time to make sure that I'm really standing behind what I've put into the world, where there have been a couple times.
And one time, some guy said to me, like, why -- in a snarky way, on Twitter -- why are you -- please, for the love of God, why are you naked so much on your show? And I was sitting in a hotel room at, like, one in the morning; I'd just hosted SNL the night before. I was exhausted. And I wrote back, "Gee, Mister, I don't know, ask my uncle." And suddenly, I was like, why did I do that? Why did I do that? (Laughter.) It was really bad. And then, of course, because I'm such a people pleaser, I apologized like 72 times, to the point where everyone was like, shut up, we're fine with it, just go away. Yeah, go to bed. And so I think that's another reason my social media manager is helpful, because she'll be like, do you want to think about this one for 10 minutes? And I'm like, thank you for stopping me.
MS. SEYMOUR: Oh, my goodness. The late-night tweets. So in our last few minutes here, I would like to hear from Mrs. Obama -- what's the next phase for Let Girls Learn? And how can the rest of us help you here today to get the word out? Obviously, the media companies are helping, but what else can we do for you?
MRS. OBAMA: I just want to thank the media companies for stepping up in a big way. I mean, I think you laid out -- we're working closely with the Peace Corps, and we're developing a fund right now. And we've raised over a million dollars, and it's funding many, many projects run by Peace Corps volunteers on the ground. There are so many opportunities to engage, so we hope that all of you find a way to get involved. This is going to be an issue that I'm going to tackle for a very long time. When we leave office in a year, as Barack and I say, we'll still be young. We still got some life in us. So we're in the process of thinking through how do we best use the next phase, the next platform that we have to continue to impact the issues that we care about.
And one of the things I learned coming into the office as First Lady, the thing everybody asked before Barack had won a primary or done anything was, what's your platform going to be as First Lady? I was like, really? I don't even know what that platform is going to feel like, so I can't answer that question. I don't know what that role is going to be. And I feel the same way about the next phase of life and what I'm going to do. I don't know what it will feel like to be the former First Lady and what power or voice I will have, and how to best use that effectively. I'll know better when I'm there.
But I know that girls' education, educating our kids here in the United States, making sure that they make the most of their education, they take their education seriously, that they invest in themselves, they push themselves, and that we do that for kids all around the globe, that is going to be something that I'm going to be working on for the rest of my life. Because I think about my girls. When I think about girls' education, I think about the potential that all of these young women have and what a waste it would be if we didn't capitalize on it, and if they didn't capitalize on it. And that's not a message -- that's not a problem that's going to get solved in a few years or possibly not even in a generation. And we're going to need to keep pushing hard on this issue to change cultural norms around the world to demand that countries invest in their girls as much as they invest in their boys.
And we want to make sure that kids here continue to be inspired by the stories of these girls. I mean, there are girls around the world who are putting their lives at risk to get an education. Malala Yousafzai. I could go on. The girls in Nigeria, risking kidnap just to get an education. So we don't have the luxury of squandering the education that we have. And I want our kids to be just as passionate and just as hungry to do what they can to make the most of their education. So that's something we're going to be talking about for a long time to come.
I don't know, that was kind of a long answer. (Applause.)
MS. SEYMOUR: And, Julianne, what's next for your project? And then, Lena, just tell us --
MS. MOORE: Well, I think in terms of the Creative Council for Everytown, we just want to be part of the change. We don't expect it to be fast. Like I said, our model is marriage equality. We want to go state by state. We'd like to see universal background checks. I'd like to see a lockbox in every household that has a kid in it that also has a gun. We just want to take steps to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. And it will be slow and probably a little bit boring, but it will get done. I really do believe it will get done. (Applause.)
MS. SEYMOUR: Great. Lena?
MS. DUNHAM: Well, our goal at Lenny is to continue to expand and to move into other countries, and both translate our content and make content that's specific to those new locales so that it can be a resource for women about issues not just in the U.S. -- because the issues that a woman is facing in the Middle East, the issues that a woman is facing in Brazil are very different than the issues that we're facing here in the United States. And so while some content can be universal, other content has to be specific. And the Internet can often be the safest and most private place for women to learn and to gain resources. And so it would be a real dream to be able to continue that conversation, not just with American feminists, but with global feminists.
MS. SEYMOUR: Great. And with that, thank you all for being here today. (Applause.) Thank you so much.
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady, Lena Dunham and Julianne Moore at the American Magazine Media Conference in New York City Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320904