Gee, I hope the food was better than the conversation
Oooo, Joe Biden was on The View recently and discussed the allegations that surfaced in Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men about the problems senior staff women were having in the White House. Ahem. From what I can tell, Joe is trying to make it sound trivial or he’s in denial:
Vice President Joe Biden today disputed the controversial characterizations of the Obama White House author Ron Suskind made in his new book,”Confidence Men,” as a bastion of sexism that was insulated from a diversity of opinions.
“I don’t know who they’re talking about,” Biden said of former White House aides who reportedly told Suskind that the administration fostered a hostile work environment for women. “Obviously, they didn’t talk to Michelle Obama or Jill Biden. Because if there’s sexism in the White House, the person engaging in it is in trouble.”
The vice president made the comments during an appearance on ABC’s “The View” to talk about his nearly two-decade campaign to end violence against women.
“I’m not suggesting there’s not some instance where a staffer thought they were not treated well,” Biden said. “But look at the high-ranking staff on my staff, on the president’s staff — 70 percent of the high-ranking people on my staff … they’re all women. I literally, when this came out, I asked them, I asked them had they seen it. And nobody is aware.”
Before we get to the substance of Joe’s remarks, let’s get one thing straight: the women in question have made very serious, not trivial, allegations of discrimination. Those allegations should be investigated thoroughly. These days, it is possible to measure the degree to which women and men were treated differently in their roles. It is possible to mine data that is already retained on email servers and on digital recordings of meetings. A variety of metrics can be used to determine whether there is a correlation between position, location of office, direct reports and access. In fact, just about any parameter you care to measure can be dumped into a statistical package and trends, principal components and, probably, the truth, should come spilling out. We rely on data mining and statistics for a wide variety of legitimate reasons these days and this is a perfect opportunity to get to the bottom of this.
OK, back to what Joe said and why we should ignore it.
1.) Joe says that if there was any of that hostility going on, by golly, Jill Biden and Michelle Obama would know about it. First, excuse me, but are Jill and Michelle the house mothers for the senior White House staff? From what I can tell, Michelle Obama is not a working woman. She has decided to sit this administration out and weed the garden. It is unclear to me what line of authority she would have with the female staff in the White House, nor is is clear what she could do about it if someone complained to her. In fact, I can’t think of why anyone would complain to her. It makes no sense. Jill Biden, if I recall correctly, is an English professor. Again, how would Jill be aware of the working environment of the professional women working in the White House? Secondly, regardless of how Michelle and Jill are treated in their casual interactions with Obama’s male staff, the nature of such interactions are not professional, they are social. It is unlikely that Rahm Emannuel is going to tell them to shut the f^&* up or talk over them in the reception line or at dinner. Nah-gah-happen.
The only reason I can see that Joe would bring up Jill and Michelle is that he was appearing on The View, a chatty news show tailor made for women in a more traditional lifestyle. If they’re watching The View, they’re not working. (Maybe working women watch the view on the DVR but I personally can’t stand The View. It’s the worst of the stereotype of women’s programming. It’s watered down news discussed in a gossipy, coffee clatsch setting. Something about it makes me think back to my vaguest recollection of Virginia Graham.) View afficianados stay-at-home moms or senior women like my mother. So, Joe is out there doing a political stump speech so as not to lose the ladies. It looks to me like the White House is trying to get ahead of this. November 2012 is going to be very scary for Obama.
2.) Asking your female staff if there is an issue is NOT going to get you anywhere. It takes a lot of courage to say you think there might be a problem that needs to be investigated. No one wants to walk around with a target on their back. And lately, I have been reading (in more than one place) that the White House environment may be “tough” on women. Once again, it’s OK if a high pressure environment is “tough”. Presumably, the women who accepted those jobs knew that it would be when they signed on. The question is, was “toughness” from women reciprocally appreciated? My guess is that it is not. We can find out by looking at the way women and men are described by their peers and supervisors. Are men “tough” but women “abrasive”? Are men driven but women “not team players”? How about we ask Brooksley Born who was routinely described in such unflattering terms by her peers like Arthur Levitt, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin.
So, Joe goes to his female staff and asks them to rat on the guys who already potentially have the means to make their lives inconsequential and they say they don’t know what he’s referring to. Big surprise there. What would have happened if Joe had said to his whole staff, men and women alike, “These are serious allegations. If I didn’t look into them, I might not be getting the best performance from my staff. I think we should start an investigation and see if there are any trends in the data. If there are, we can put a plan in place to make sure we address each one of the issues. Who’s on board with that?”
I might actually have respect for the guy. If I were a woman, I wouldn’t be put on the spot. If I were a man, I’d be reviewing my past behavior. I’d expect some resentment down the line when the truth comes out. ”It’s just the way we’ve always done it” or “You can’t stop people from hanging out or working differently with people like them”. No, you probably can’t stop it. But you can make sure it isn’t rewarded. But the only way to make sure it isn’t rewarded is to become aware of it in the first place.
Joe really screwed up. And the lefty blogosphere is strangely quiet. I have read nary a word from the Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias types out there. Lefty blogosphere women are also quiet. Are they afraid they’ll lose the access they already have? How about it, Susie Madrak? You think you’re not getting access because of your “dirty fucking hippy” remark? More likely, they didn’t like your attitude. You were too pushy, abrasive, aggressive. I’ll betcha Josh Marshall could have gotten away with that.
The problem is real. It’s not in your head. The details are familiar to those of us who have had to put up with this crap in the corporate world. Even Stieg Larsson, the author of the Millenium series wrote a subplot where one of his female characters runs into the same damn thing at her new job. Same maddeningly familiar bad behavior with the email, meetings and phone calls.
It won’t get better unless you say something. Women have very little real estate in the mainstream media opinion pages as it is and what women are there straddle the generational and gender divide uncomfortably. Kathleen Parker at WaPo is a case in point. In her post on the issue, the last few paragraphs couldn’t be less helpful:
Most of the complaints aimed at Obama’s house concerned Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel. Both are now gone. And Obama has made efforts to create a more woman-friendly environment.
He knows how to listen to women, which probably explains his popularity with the gentler sex, but he’s still a guy and can’t be faulted for being more comfortable in his down time hanging with his male pals. Women like some girlfriend time, too.
But to the larger point of women feeling less engaged and appreciated at the elevated levels they’ve earned, there is a clear solution, as hinted above. More women. More women. More women. There are plenty to fill an equal number of slots — no more scrounging to find qualified candidates.
And the best part: Women no longer have to try to be like men. They can be women, which is, one humbly submits, even better.
Yes, let’s reinforce gender stereotypes. Women are the purer, gentler sex. Instead of encouraging them to get tough without penalty, women will civilize the White House. And we’ll add more of them even if it doesn’t matter if 90% of them are female and the 10% that is male sets the agenda and has all of the access. Women like Parker completely miss the point. Women staffers don’t want more “girlfriend time”. They want to be movers and shakers on the same professional footing as their male counterparts. Please, don’t do us any more favors, Kathleen.
But I suspect that Kathleen and Joe Biden come from the same generational conditioning. While we can ignore Kathleen as being insufficiently familiar with the aspirations and expertise of the White House female staff, Joe Biden should really know better. If he doesn’t, then he shouldn’t hire any more women. No, seriously. Why frustrate them and allow their efforts to meet with obstructions? You’re only costing the tax payers money. Just hire only guys and then shit will get done. They might not be the best solutions to the issues they are dealing with but at least there won’t be ideas that will sit on the shelf because they couldn’t get an audience. Let’s just see the White House in all of its sexist glory.
And if the White House is arguing that the problem is solved now that Summers and Rahm are gone, they must really think we’re stupid. I don’t believe it for a second. The President himself set the tone. He’s the one who had the exclusive basketball games and golf outings. He’s the one who mocked Christina Romer in a meeting. He knows what he’s doing and if he doesn’t, someone should tell him before 2012. Why any woman would vote for him after the past three years of economic disaster and poor treatment of his female staff defies logic.
Poor Republicans and Obama women. Perfectly stupid together.
Filed under: General | Tagged: hostile work environment, Joe Biden, Kathleen Parker, obama white house, Stieg Larsson, women | 27 Comments »