I don’t know why I am surprised at this but it looks like some of the lefty blogosphere guys are circling the wagons around Obama over Anita Dunn’s allegations that the White House could have been in court over the hostile working environment for women. Kevin Drum is the latest to try to defend the president’s honor:
There really do seem to be legitimate complaints on this score, but on one of the most dramatic quotes about this, there’s a striking mismatch between what Ron Suskind heard and what he reported in his book. Here’s what he said he was told by former White House communications director Anita Dunn:
Looking back, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace….Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace for women.
But here’s the full quote:
I remember once I told Valerie [Jarrett] that, I said if it weren’t for the president,this place would be in court for a hostile workplace….Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.
This doesn’t necessarily change the substance of the charge about the White House atmosphere — though it might, depending on what Dunn meant — but it definitely changes what it suggests about Obama himself. Why on earth did Suskind leave that bit out? It’s only eight words, and it’s not as if he was short on space.
Yes, let us split hairs, Kevin, and turn this into another kerning dispute.
Do the eight words matter? I’m listening to the book right now and I haven’t gotten to that part but from other posts I have read on the details, I would say, No, the eight words are not that important in the whole scheme of things.
From what I can tell, the infractions were obvious early on. They included meetings that women were not invited to attend, expertise not listened to and a distinct lack of direction from Rahm Emannuel, who failed to signal to the campaign leftovers that election season was over and some of these women were their seniors. The women staffers initially attempted to get Obama’s attention but he brushed it off as an artifact of the campaign. Then, they went to Valerie Jarret, who, IMHO, took exactly the wrong approach and attempted to “pinkify” the female experience at the White House with women only activities and baby showers.
From my own perspective as a female in a male dominated industry, I have something to say about this. I don’t think women are that put off by the occasional F-bomb. It’s a little startling the first time you hear it but you get used to it and then feel comfortable slinging it around. Throwing footballs around in the office? Also not a problem as long as they’re the Nerf variety and you are not made to play monkey-in-the-middle. It’s the power plays that are going on in the background to which no woman is invited that is the single most irritating, infuriating and unfair thing about working with guys.
It wasn’t always this bad and from the two companies I have worked for, it seemed to me that the problem was worse at the international company compared to the American company. But even a lot of American guys still act like any promotion of women in their midst is a direct threat to their affirmative action program for white men. You can’t hire one single woman more than they think is acceptable before they start whining about how “more qualified men” were overlooked as if we didn’t already have more than our share of mediocre men in our midst. Come on, Kevin, Ezra, Josh, Ta Nehisi, it’s true, isn’t it? How many prominent writers that are quoted at length on our lefty blogosphere are women? It’s always the same *guys* who are working at The Atlantic, WaPo and Mother Jones. Digby is getting her share now but it took a long time for her to get off her asteroid in the Oort Belt and into mainstream circulation and she is a much more perceptive writer than someone like Ezra Klein who seems to be adopting the values and attitudes of his editors and mentors. Anyway, I digress.
I suspect that for women working in the White House, there was a sense that things had already been decided before they entered the meeting room. There were unannounced meetings in someone’s office where projects were discussed, strategies planned, and work divided up that underlined the impression that the women who were supposed to be doing that work were not very relevant. Am I right, ladies? I suspect that Obama’s lieutenants had proteges and they were not female. And those proteges were given a lot of responsibility and airtime to make themselves look important and responsible and trusted with information that women did not have access to. Their executive hair was already sprouting. And here were these women, come from academia and prestigious positions of their own who were sidelined. They study and work very hard to become experts at their subjects and they are upstaged by some male asshole who seems to have the ear of the most powerful people in the room. Well, that’s what it sounds like from what I have read. How did *that* happen??
So, they took their complaints to Obama and he ignored them. It’s not that they were not being assertive enough. It’s that the lines of authority had already been established and they were established between the senior and junior men and not the women. And who could blame them? It is human nature for people to gravitate to people most like themselves. Men will choose to hang out with men because it’s more comfortable. That’s why it is so important for the guy at the top to set the tone with his direct reports and make the rules so that this doesn’t happen and everybody doesn’t waste their time, make bad decisions and suck up taxpayer money. But in Obama’s White House, Rahm, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner were the head honchos and, apparently, they didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to pivot away from outrageous sexist behavior to a more professional working environment. With the exception of Hillary Clinton, how many times have we seen pictures of meeting rooms in the White House where all of the participants were male? More than *I* can count.
The meetings with Jarret went on until the women finally had a dinner with Obama in November 2009. That’s almost a whole year before he finally got around to taking them seriously and it was a very important year in terms of the economy. In the meantime, Obama continued to have pick up basketball games with the guys. What’s up with that, anyway? Couldn’t anyone find a bat and a softball so everyone could play? And baby showers, Valerie? Really? Even in my workplace, men attend baby showers. It sounds like males and females were even more segregated in the White House than they are in some uncomfortably hierarchical international companies. What we had was an attempt to suburbanize the experiences of the genders where the men had the equivalent of hanging out in the garage and the women sat in the living room and talked about their labors and deliveries. It’s so dumb I’m surprised the women went along with it. Maybe it made the personal experience bearable but I can’t see how it made the professional experience better. Jarret and Obama should have worked harder to provide more opportunities for the sexes to mix so that they saw each others as human beings with similar interests and aspirations.
So, maybe Obama was the only thing that spared the White House from landing in court. On the other hand, what were the women supposed to do? If you can’t get the President to enforce an open and transparent working environment, what makes you think you’re going to get better treatment at the EEOC? And the Supreme Court has recently ruled that the women of Walmart, who were experiencing the same kind of bullshit on a much vaster scale, didn’t have anything in common to bring a class action suit. If the dudes aren’t groping you in the hall closet, if you’re only complaint is that opportunities are passing you by, you haven’t got a case. So, that’s that.
Really, it’s shocking that the guys of the lefty blogosphere haven’t caught on to the pernicious way that the misogyny of the 2008 primary season has added to the hostile environment of the workplace for professional women. I could swear that the problem has gotten worse, or maybe I’m just more attuned to it these days, but it seems to me that the unchecked sexism of the 2008 election season has given guys the green light to act with impunity in the workplace. When forcing a female manager out of her position or laying off junior staff who mostly happen to be women could mean the end of careers, some of these guys may be getting away with murder. Why are guys like Kevin Drum so quick to defend other guys for this kind of behavior unless they were themselves benefitting from the backroom deals and male exclusion zone? Are they feeling any kind of ping of conscience for taking advantage of advantages that are not available to women? Is Barack Obama so insensitive and conditioned that he thought some of his most talented women were just bitching over pick up basketball games?
Like I said before, everything can be measured. That’s where the truth of the matter will manifest itself. In these days where everything is digitally recorded somewhere, there is no need for the “he said/she said” defense. Honest, well intentioned people who value fairness will want to get to the bottom of this problem in the most objective manner possible. Would that include Kevin Drum? Let’s get the data from the emails, phone calls and meeting appointments. Let’s see who sequestered information and whose requests for information were ignored. Let’s roll the tape on the way meetings were conducted. Let’s see who got the plum assignments and from whom. Let’s see who was described in terms of acceptable social behavior and who was praised for accomplishments. And then let’s develop some guidelines so this doesn’t happen in the White House, or any other place of business, ever again.
If Suskind’s book sheds some much needed daylight on the way women are treated in the workplace, he will have done us all a big favor. I can tell you that the first chapter, focussing on the way Timothy Geithner treated Elizabeth Warren, had my blood boiling. I’m betting that he could have never gotten away with this if she were a man. Same with Hillary Clinton, although, now that she has proven herself to have a set of three titanium testicles by surviving a lot of outrageous sexist behavior, she seems to have won some sort of grudging respect. But no woman should have her expertise and credentials sidelined in order to preserve a hidden hierarchy and mentoring system to which she has no chance of belonging.
The answer is no, Kevin. Dunn’s extra eight words didn’t significantly change the meaning and Obama didn’t make things better. If he had made things better in the beginning when it first came to his attention, this crap would have never made it into the book. Dunn’s allegations were hardly the only ones. The inattentiveness to their complaints reinforces our perception of Obama as being a poor manager who doesn’t set a good example and doesn’t care how his female employees are treated.
But we suspected that before the election. Now, we know for sure.
UPDATE: I followed this link from Eschaton to a Elizabeth Warren video. Remember, according to sources close to him, Tim Geithner was planning to develop an “Elizabeth Warren Strategy” which was to be “a plan to engage with the firebrand reformer that would render her politically inert.” But he settled for barring her from running the agency she created. Geithner’s got to go.
Pass it around.
And here’s her website where you can make a donation and keep the firebrand burning: Elizabeth Warren for Massachusetts