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So, the truth comes out about what it’s like to work as a woman in the White House. In Ron Susskind’s new upcoming book, Confidence Men, Women in Obama’s White House felt excluded and ignored:

A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations.

“Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President,” by journalist Ron Suskind due out next Tuesday, details the rivalries among Obama’s top economic advisers, Larry Summers, former chairman of the National Economic Council, and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. It describes constant second-guessing by Summers, now at Harvard, who was seen by others as “imperious and heavy-handed” in his decision-making.

In an excerpt obtained by The Post, a female senior aide to President Obama called the White House a hostile environment for women.“This place would be in court for a hostile workplace,” former White House communications director Anita Dunn is quoted as saying. “Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.


It says that women occupied many of the West Wing’s senior positions, but felt outgunned and outmaneuvered by male colleagues such as former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Summers.

“I felt like a piece of meat,” Christina Romer, former head of the Council of Economic Advisers, said of one meeting in which Suskind writes she was “boxed out” by Summers.

Dunn told Suskind that the problems began during the 2008 campaign. At one point she was viewing a television ad with other campaign officials and was shocked to see no women in the spot.

“There isn’t a single woman in this ad,” Dunn said. “I was dumbfounded. It wasn’t like they were being deliberately sexist. It’s just there was no one offering a female perspective.”

The ad was later reshot, with women included.

“The president has a real woman problem,” an unnamed high-ranking female official told Suskind. “ The idea of the boys’ club being just Larry and Rahm isn’t really fair. He [Obama] was just as responsible himself.”

Based on interviews with more than 200 people inside and outside the White House, Suskind’s book comes as Obama faces the lowest poll numbers of his tenure, and deep discontent over his economic policies.

According to the book, female staffers, like Dunn and Romer, felt sidelined. In November 2009, female aides complained to the president about being left out of meetings, or ignored.

Dunn said in the interview that her husband, now-White House lawyer Bob Bauer, was “surprised to see me as someone who could be talked over in meetings.”

The short story, it’s typical corporate under-the-radar discrimination.  The women staffers and cabinet members will no doubt be told that they are being too sensitive or paranoid but after their work fails to get the recognition it deserves or requires, she’s going to feel the stress of always being on the outside looking in and missing the crucial milestones necessary to get a promotion and exercise power.  When the crucial decision making meetings happen, she won’t be aware of them.  They might be impromptu, like during lunch at a table where few women are invited to join.  Or at golf games.  Or a meeting may be arranged where the scheduler has a propensity for the hierarchical and no juniors are invited, most of those juniors happening to be women.  Or the female staffer may need to gather information and sends out a survey email, which for some unknown reason, several more senior sycophants fail to respond to.  Or at a department meeting during your presentation, the guys talk over you or interrupt you or speed up your presentation or slow it down so they can ask you questions that were not in the scope of the presentation.  If you’ve been taking data, you’ll have realized by now that men rarely receive this kind of treatment, but it all contributes to making you look just a little bit unprepared or not quite knowing what’s really going on (because you weren’t there when they told the guys what was really going on).  Heck, you’re lucky you get a chance to present at all.  The stars get their 45 minutes of fame at every meeting while you have to book a slot months in advance.  That kind of stuff.

Oh, Ladies, I have seen it all.  These are deaths by a thousand paper cuts.  It’s disrespectful, isolating, humiliating and prevents you from looking like you’re doing your best job.  But it’s not grabbing and propositioning.  Without the sexual aspect, this more pernicious and devastating career stalling form of discrimination never gets the proper attention it deserves.  The fact that this is happening at the Obama White House does not surprise me at all.  I’ve seen this report coming for two years now, ever since the bunch of guys who run Obama’s campaign thought it would be a great idea if Michelle took on a more traditional first lady role.  Let her stay at home with two school aged adolescents who no longer require full time care.  She can garden in her spare time and lecture all the other mothers about nutrition.  It so fits the upper middle class suburban mother demographic.  Her sphere of influence is to set an example of what a demure, respectful, “had my fun in my career but now find complete fulfillment as a full time mother with a lot of time on my hands to make you feel inadequate as a mother” should be.  This is the game in the suburbs, who can outmother.  Who chauffeurs more, who is more alert to safety issues, who sets more limits on their childrens’ {freinds, TVtime, sugar ingestion, independence}  She is a throw back to the woman who defers, whose identity depends on her husband.  I’m sure the evangelicals are eating it up with a genuine jesus plated spoon.  But her example does not help the women who are tasked with working with her husband and his cabinet.  The specter of Michelle, digging in the garden like a good PTA mom, contributes to an attitude that women don’t put their careers first.  They can’t handle it.  They’ll stress out and go home.  But the worst type of stress is caused by male generated obstructions that keep you from getting your work done efficiently.

The kind of behavior described in Susskind’s book results in a lot of lost opportunities.  There won’t be a lot of thinking outside the box if half of the staff doesn’t get heard or taken seriously.  It’s a waste of talent.  It costs us money.  Think of Christina Romer, giving the right answer as to the size of the stimulus package, overridden by Geithner and then having to fight for the privilege to give her input during meetings when guy after guy were called on and she was passed over.  If I were her, I’d be pissed.  But let me guess what happened when she brought it up.  She was told she wasn’t being a team player, that she was too sensitive.  What she really meant to say was, “I had something important to say and now you are going to make your decisions without hearing it”.  And they probably did.  Romer stuck it out for a couple of years and then had enough and went home.  It’s real discrimination all right but there’s no definition for the disrespect and dismissal that happens day after day.  It’s pervasive and nebulous.

What could the White House have done differently?  Well, first, it could have refrained from running such a bloody relentless, sexist campaign.  Second, it could have instituted a training program and guidelines and hold violators accountable.  That might have included instructing male staffers to answer all phone calls and emails promptly no matter who was requesting, it could have monitored the response time to those requests and analyzed the data to determine who were the biggest offenders, if could have had meetings videotaped and analyzed for inappropriate indifference to the input of female attendees or interruptions of her presentation.  It could have analysed the words used to comment on the presentations of men and women.  A computational linguist might have been hired to to this.  The White House might have made a rule about golf outings.  All golf outings must be composed of equal parts men and women.  Same with any on-site activity.  Male or female only lunch groups should be discouraged.  It’s hard to monitor off-site activities but any opportunities that result in the male staff taking their shirts off in a bar while their female companions remain clothed should be discussed as to the messages sent to all members present and the public at large.  How about a dress code?  You can’t force guys to take off their ties but there has to be a female equivalent to give them power.  Find a way to get rid of symbols of male authority and female subordination.

Have training sessions that explain how damaging it is to refer to assertive women as “not team players” or “hard to work with” or any other code word used to undermine her authority.  For too long, women are coached to walk a thin line and never be too assertive or two passive so as to not upset the mens folk.  It never works.  Women can always be criticized for something.  This coaching of female staff is completely wasted because the violators of creating this hostile workplace (and trust me, it is very hostile) are never held responsible for their behavior.  That behavior makes it very difficult for women to present their ideas and work in a manner that will be recognized and will get things done.  And when you hire women on your staff and let the men act like cock-of-the-walk assholes, the only ideas you’re going to get to work with will be the ones generated by cock-of-the-walk assholes and women will despise you because none of your solutions seem to have anything that will make their lives better.

What we’re seeing at the White House is the same kind of cut throat, kill your enemies behavior seen in corporate culture.  That culture is exacerbated by the business school class that is always trying to climb over the broken back of the person who stands in their way of the next position up the ladder.  It seeps down to all levels of the corporation and becomes intensified among the rank and file where keeping one’s job becomes a vicious and nasty game of musical chairs.  Most upper managers are men and they identify with men and many women are left without mentors or the respect they need to stay in the game.  That’s why you can see departments lose 80% of their women staffers during a layoff and never blink an eye.  Of course, some areas and fields of expertise are different than others but when the women of MIT set out to document the atrocities, they found that it wasn’t just all in their heads.  It’s real.  But it can be fixed, if there is the will to do it.  It doesn’t look like the White House thinks this is an important issue to tackle.

The fact that it’s happening at the White House and that Obama hasn’t done anything in 3 years to mitigate it, speaks volumes to me about just what kind of president he is.  Corporate, sexist without even knowing it, probably dismissive of complaints, oblivious that there’s a problem at all and incurious about why it is that so many of the people he promotes and listens to are male.

Ladies, we KNOW these guys.  Why in world would we ever want to vote for another man for president is beyond me.  Obama seems to be taking this country backwards to the 60’s.  He has learned nothing.  And sexism, far from being unimportant in the whole scheme of things, like rescuing the economy, it is the linchpin as to why the economy is in as bad shape as it is.  Sheila Bair wanted to nationalize the biggest banks, Christina Romer wanted to double the stimulus package.  They were both overruled.  The next in line to be press secretary, Karen Finney, was passed over so that Jay Carney, a dude on Biden’s staff could take the position.  What happened there?  What was even more shocking is that Nancy Pelosi wasn’t initially invited to the talks about the debt ceiling crisis.  That’s inexcusable.  No-, really, I’m amazed that the media let them get away with that.  The only person who seems to know how to command attention and respect in Obama’s cabinet is Hillary Clinton.  And we don’t even know the whole story there.  (I’m betting she doesn’t put up with un-returned phone calls and emails)

This book should be good.  I’m using one of my last 2 audible credits to snag one.  But if I were one of the Obama girls who latched onto him to look cool and aspirational instead of old, stupid and menopausal, I’d be feeling pretty stupid right now.  Big mistake.  Massive.

68 Responses

  1. You can put all the rules you want in place but they be of no use if the place is staffed with misogynist pigs. The way to do it is start off with people who can see past the gender, race, ethnicity, and etc to the talent their co-workers bring to the table. But that would require a level of maturity sorely lacking in this administration.

    • I disagree. We got misogynist pigs to stop groping. We can get them to respond promptly to emails and phone calls because those things are measurable. A few swats with a rolled up newspaper should do the trick. They can be taught.
      Another thing we should do is evaluate how women are hired and what terms are used in their performance evaluations. These things leaves clues to deeper cultural conditionings. Most men don’t even realize they’re doing it but they can be punished and rewarded for their behavior.
      It can be done.

      • Not sure they can be taught to know better. Retraining your heart really isn’t something you can’t be forced into doing. But you can at least make it so socially unacceptable that they refrain from the behavior for fear of the consequences.
        But of course that doesn’t really work when not only is it being accepted but encouraged AND rewarded as we saw in ’08.

        • I think we have learned from the civil rights movement that you can’t force people to stop thinking like a bigot but you can make it very hard for them to act like one.
          Same with sexual harrassment. You can’t get away with that shit anymore without risking your job.
          In this particular kind of sexism, I think you can actually quantify the behavior and analyze the data and propose solutions that will mitigate the worst of it.
          The bad actors all not going to like it. It will disturb their cozy little coterie of a males only club. But you know what? I don’t think we should give a fuck whether they are uncomfortable. Women have put up with this crap for far too long and it has been devastating to their careers and reputations as workers.
          Enough is enough. Bring on the monitoring devices. Time those email replies. Make them cooperate or show them the door. There are plenty of women out there who would gladly take the jobs that men are holding onto where they are holding other people up and wasting time.

        • What is really sad is when you see the only women “allowed” in power positions exhibiting similar behavior- to be “one of the boys.” They don’t realize, like Pelosi, Wolf, etc… that they are being used by the “boys club” and eventually the boys club will turn on them after they’ve “outlived their usefulness”.

      • Too bad we can’t fit these offending men with shock collars, that would speed things up! Because I don’t think their learning curve is too impressive.

  2. http://slate.me/oviY2v

    Poll Shows Remorse on Hillary Clinton Candidacy

    34% say the U.S. would be better off if the secretary of state had won the presidency.

    It’s a little late now, but it seems some Americans are suffering from buyer’s remorse. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is now the country’s most popular national political figure as nearly two-thirds of Americans hold a favorable view of her. On top of that, 34 percent say the United States would be better off today if she had won in 2008 instead of President Barack Obama, reports a new Bloomberg poll.

  3. I worked in an almost exclusively female environment (libraries) so I don’t have direct experience with your experiences but, it sounds horrible.

    • Yes, it is horrible. What’s worse is that the powers that be were aware of it but it’s just so easy for management to paint the concerned as “not team players” or “unpleasant” or “not particularly bright”.
      Some companies are better than others. But I’ve noticed that this subtle form of discrimination has gotten worse since the pace of layoffs have increased. Men never pass up an opportunity to make sure their female rivals come off as badly as possible. You could even spell it out in detail two years in advance, predicting which two guys were going to slash and burn their way to the top and watch them do it and not get anyone to intervene.
      We can only hope that karma catches up with the biggest offenders and when it’s time for them to “show their work”, the people who are rating them find their output to not be be proportional to all their hype.

    • I too have worked in predominantly female workplaces and the few men around … were courted. 😉

  4. If Obama thinks he has a woman problem, now, wait until next year

  5. “It’s almost like they *want* him to lose.”

    Now why on earth would they want that???!?!

  6. What could the White House have done differently?

    followed by numerous good suggestions

    Or the leader could simply lead by example. (Go ahead, laugh your arses off…)

  7. In an obvious attempt to blunt Susskind’s account of administration sexism, Obama and his campaign have planned a Park Ave. fundraiser featuring MO, Gloria Steinem, and several other prominent Democratic women on the same day the book comes out, September 20th. Presidents of EMILY’S list and PP and Debbie Wasserman Schultz will take part in this re-election campaign to mobilize and energize women.

    This habit of sending party women to corral women’s votes is so mid-last century. If Obama wasn’t a 2-timing sexist, he’d campaign for the women’s vote himself and not send female surrogates.


    • I hope the GOPers nominate a woman. (Hint, hint)

      Let everyone see Obamanation’s true misogynist colors (again)

      • I’m sure they are considering it. Repubs have a sharp nose for votes and they know the Dems have a woman problem. They don’t need every disgruntled female Dem, a few percentage points from the right end of the spectrum are enough.

  8. Part of how Obie was sold was as a early 60’s sexist pig not now sweetie cool cat. Michelle, we were, told was good enough to be white ( the relentless Jackie O talk ) like that was some huge compliment and she was groomed to be a early 60’s token from the campaign much less the WH time….. now there’s a problem with the early 60’s thing? I swear Mad Men coming at the same time was no accident ….Obama is the guy whose speech writer groped a cardboard Hillary Clinton…where’s the news flash here?

    If Woodward doesn’t produce a tome about team Obama’s steely eyed shooting of a fish in a barrel,,,,er…. I mean the taking out of bin laden….then he IS in trouble….with the Villagers. That is , the over paid media people who work for the people who count.

  9. Somehow this picture got stuck with me. As an epitome of what was to come. Cherchez la femme … if you can.

  10. The New Agenda ran a complementary piece on ‘gaslighting’–making women feel like they’re the crazy ones.


    • Thanks so much for that link… it sure hits the nail on the head for me!

    • I linked to that in the body of the text.
      It’s not gaslighting so much ad plain old meanness. And you know why they do it? It’s because we’ve put up with decades of Clarence Thomas’ at EEOC and lame bills like Lily Ledbetter and concentrating all if our efforts on abortion rights. Where did it get us? The 2008 election was the last straw. We let the bastards get away with it. And this is what we get.
      The Obama administration is the way business works these days. Let’s make it clear that I have no desire to ‘pinkify’ the workplace. That would be stupid. What I want to see us women treated like persons whose experience and education should make their opinions and research worth consideration and reward. That’s not what we have. What we have is a bunch of sychopjantic male asskissers being mentored but not women. The problem, as I see it is that men in power do not mentor women. No matter how good they are, it us a lifelong struggle for recognition and credit.
      And Obama has shown himself to be no leader in this regard. His senior people allow this subtle form of discrimination because obama does not hold them accountable. This is bad news for several reasons. The economy is in tatters and the advisors with the best suggestions for remedying it were women. But he is more comfortable with the authoritative advice of men. He has done nothing to combat this tendency because it is not the MBA corporate way that he aspires to emulate.
      All the more reason to see him gone.

      • Honk, honk

        • Pssst! Thought you were in Germany celebrating?

          • The photos are priceless.

            In many ways I wish we had more choices (with a chance) than just the R or D.

          • Aren’t they now! I also like the fact that had they received only a few more votes, they wouldn’t have had enough candidates to fill the positions, lol. Maybe not too political savvy, but successful never the less. Quite inspiring. 🙂

      • sexism is just about the last thing Obama would put a halt to. If he has a core, it’s in there.

      • Sorry RD, did not give the post the full click-through treatment. I should know better by now, there is always a goodie behind each link.

      • O doesn’t like women, especially white women. He was angry with his Mother for abandoning him. And did not seem to have a warm relationship with his Grandmother. I believe he and his Grandfather almost ganged up on Grandma and bullied her. Obama was not there for either his Mother’s death or his Grandmother’s. He treated Hillary with disdain….a carry over from what he seemed to feel toward his Mother and Grandmother. I always believed he has a problem with his sexual identity and wonder if disdain of women is a way of avoiding women. He likes guys. Valerie Jarret seems to be exception…….maybe she has a sexual preference that does not cause Obama discomfort.

      • … we’ve put up with decades of Clarence Thomas’ at EEOC and lame bills like Lily Ledbetter and concentrating all of our efforts on abortion rights.

        Recently BTD had a post up on why he found it so important to back Obama … again: SCOTUS! and what was interesting reading through the comments was that while male commentators seemed to mostly agree with him, the female voices were more along the lines of “Pfffttt! We’re much more concerned with healthcare, economy, jobs …”

        • It’s not a given “his” decision about that would be any better. While in the Senate , Obama was voting for Roberts before an aid with more than two brain cells told him not to. There is no pay off with Obie….no reason to vote for him over an official Repug…besides one of style. He’ll give one the CEO style of stealing the trillions for the top .9999.%..and the current GOP field will give one the cowboy. yahoo style . So pick your poison ….But whoever gets installed will continue to fire sale our country for the top .9999 % regardless

          • PS

            It would be just like Team Obie to sell him via the Supreme Court and betray his base later. Remember in 08 we were told we HAD to vote for him because of women’s rights…how did that work out?

            Like with Bush, if you do something for them in the hope of a future payoff…you will lose. There is no future payoff once they have what they want from you.

        • Oh not the SCOTUS canard again. How long are they gonna yank my chain with that shit? Jeez.

          • And doesn’t it seem like it’s mostly men playing that “card”? “I have daughters myself, therefore …” Just like it seems mostly white people play the raçe card? “I have friends that are black, therefore …” Solidarity shown by indignation on behalf of others. Sort of easy, isn’t it. Safe and free.

      • And Obama has shown himself to be no leader in this regard.

        No leader in any regard, period.

  11. I don’t want Hillary to run for president again… not because she wouldn’t be the best damn president of my lifetime, but because I can’t stand to see her slimed again the way she was in 2008. What I’d like to see is Hillary stepping down as SOS a good eight months before the election and stumping for superior female candidates like Elizabeth Warren. I believe she’d have very long coattails and could make a huge difference in getting good women elected to both the senate and house. 31% should be the goal now more than ever!

    • Don’t worry about Hillary. She is her own ‘person’. Worry for the rest of the women in this country. Right now, there is NO ONE championing us. I would gladly vote for Hillary to give it a try.

    • Not me, I would love to have Hillary run, I have no doubt she would win both the nomination and the WH. This time it would be real Dems, the ones unafraid of mommy, that would show up at those fake caucuses.

    • If 2008 proved nothing else it’s that Hillary can take whatever they throw at her, and she does so with grace and aplomb. I liked her before, but I never imagined I could gain the type of admiration and respect I have now for her, if not for seeing how she not just survived ’08 but as we see has thrived since then. Most people, women OR men wouldn’t have been able to stay afloat with what she was forced to endure.
      She didn’t just stick it out during the 08 primaries to embarrass the one and show up all those haters who kept telling her to get out, or because she WANTED to keep subjecting herself to all those attacks, she was there for everyone who supported her and the idea of a fair election process (which is sadly all we had, the idea of one).
      I know all the way up to and especially including the nomination at the convention she made this about us. Just as I know she would have if she were Pres. And that alone should prove to anyone she’s more than ready to lead us.

      • I always felt that when Hillary Clinton – shortly after her nomination to SoS – invited Michelle Obama to the ‘State Department Women of Courage Awards’, it was kind of a hint. The older, wiser, more experienced woman saying: “Look. Here’s what you could use your new power to promote: the cause of women and women’s rights.

        Unfortunately Michelle Obama had other ideas.

  12. RD – may be cross-post on the TNA blog?

  13. […] So, the truth comes out about what it's like to work as a woman in the White House. In Ron Susskind's new upcoming book, Confidence Men, Women in Obama's White House felt excluded and ignored: A new book claims that the Obama White House is a boys’ club marred by rampant infighting that has hindered the administration’s economic policy and left top female advisers feeling excluded from key conversations. “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, … Read More […]

  14. from politico….

    We asked representatives of the major women’s groups what they thought about Anita Dunn’s comments on the anti-woman atmosphere in the Obama administration.

    But even though these groups often jump to respond to claims of sexism — like with the unflattering Newsweek cover of Michele Bachmann last month, for example — they appear to be staying out of this one.

    Sam Bennett, president and CEO of the non-partisan Women’s Campaign Forum, said she had never heard any allegations of tough conditions for women in the White House.

    “Never once … have I heard anything negative about the Obama administration in regards to its internal treatment of women or is goals,” she said. “I can’t imagine that it would be lost on the Obama administration that it was women, particularly unmarried African-American women, who elected him.”

    Julie Burton, of the Women’s Media Center, also passed on the chance to criticize the Obama administration.

    “Anita Dunn says she was misquoted, and in any case, only she can characterize her experience in the White House,” she wrote in an email. “I can say that women outside the White House are concerned about administration policy as it affects their lives.”

    • That’s because they don’t want to be seen as paranoid whiners. But the plain old fact is that everything can be quantified and analysed these days. Everything from org charts and response times to the number of interruptions per presentation, to how many times each gender is asked to do x,y,z, to the words used in performance evaluations. They don’t have to back away from these allegations. They should be stepping up and demanding an investigation. I *guarantee* they will find something. 😉 The women of MIT have already started doing this and they demonstrated that it wasn’t all in their heads.

      What this tells me is that so-called feminist organizations are anything but. We who are out in the real world know what’s going on.

  15. […] goes through from time to time. Maybe she’s right about being underestimated but it was because of her gender rather than her race. Or maybe she has overestimated her […]

  16. That video of Naomi Klein permanently branded her a fool in my book. Since then, I have given absolutely NO consideration to anything that she has said or written. God, we truly were in the house of mirrors for awhile, weren’t we?

    • Well her book Disaster Capitalism is really good….but that video does show how deep and wide the Obie fix was .It was total. Which was why even Hilary had to bow out . But 08 showed one there is no left press. What there was was bought up ,made to serve and that’s still the case today . If we had an actual left press, perhaps someone might mention the wars? …..nope.

      • Hey wait a mintune…that’s Naomi Wolf on the vid…we got our Naomis mixed up . My apolagies to Miss Klien

        • Yeah, I’d hate for the daughter-in-law of incredible journalist Michelle Lansberg to be confused with that gushing sellout.

    • That’s Naomi Wolf of the earth tones Al Gore urban myth. Naomi Klein is the Shock Doctrine expert and as far as I know, has never had an orgasm on TV just by talking about Obama.

      • lol you caught that while I was typing….yes a vast difference there .
        In the vid, Ms. Wolf was simply doing her PR job du jour. It impressed me how NK stayed away from the general left jack booting …. I thought I had miss a video of the contrary . My bad

        • Yep, my bad. Naomi Wolf is the silly hair-flipper in the video above. Naomi Klein is a very smart lady that I mightily respect. (But darn it– I always gets their last names mixed up!)

  17. Great post, RD. Thanks.

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