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Obama and women: Two views

What’s up with the lefty blogosphere women?  They should be all over Ron Suskind’s book, Confidence Men, and yet, whooosh, it’s like a giant empty space where the commentary should be.  Are they uncomfortable?  Embarrassed?  Can’t quite believe it?  If they’re going to continue to prop up guy culture, they ought to ask themselves, what’s in it for them?

There are two new points of view about presidential politics and women in the news today.  One of them gets it, the other is puzzling in its apparent cluelessness.

First up, the Washington Post nails the problem.  Maybe it’s proximity or experience.  I have to say that this kind of behavior is not limited to politics where men are used to being aggressive.  It pops up wherever there is a surplus of guys in a workspace.  Here are the money quotes from White House remains a man’s world, some say (note the qualifier lest the ladies get in trouble for complaining):

To win with your idea, you need to make an argument, in front of the decision-maker. You need to be heard.

Also, you need to be seen.

And that is what matters in this flap over the White House being a “hostile work environment” for women in the first years of the Obama administration, as communications adviser and political pro Anita Dunn describes it in a new book about the president’s term.


But are we still having this conversation? About women struggling for a seat at the table?

Well, yes. “And having to articulate that you need a seat at the table!” says Jennifer Lawless, who directs the Women and Politics Institute at American University. It’s a numbers problem — 83 percent of the members of Congress are men, which puts the United States in 90th place among the world’s legislatures, for all you politics workers obsessed with scorekeeping.

“So you can play a pivotal role,” Lawless says, “but first you have to earn that role and then articulate that role, before you can raise your voice.”

You have to develop work-arounds, say women who have gone through the revolving door of government and academia and the private sector, to learn that there’s a fake meeting and a real meeting, and to make sure that you get to the real meeting, the one they might be having while you are dropping off your kid at school.

Elaine Kamarck recalls having to fight for inclusion as the vice presidential adviser for reinventing government in the Clinton White House, and “after about 10 times where my issues were discussed in the senior staff meeting, without me somehow being considered a necessary person to be present, I complained enough to [White House Chief of Staff Leon] Panetta until he let me in.”

Seating, meetings and e-mail loops are everything. Because power in Washington is proximity to the principal, “There can be an aspect of bullying to male-female relations,” Kamarck says.

Because? “White Houses tend to attract people with really, really strong wills, and they tend to attract men who think their ideas are right,” and the good manager, as Panetta was, she says, keeps them in line. “They get all tough and macho, and they can try to roll you.”

But if they don’t pinch your butt, you haven’t got a case.  In my humble opinion, women can definitely compete in this environment iff they aren’t penalized for adapting to it.  Unfortunately, a woman who tries to assert herself is labeled “abrasive”, “not a team player” or a “bitch”.  Then they have to be “coached” so they know what to say to whom so they don’t come off as too aggressive or too passive.  Somehow, the women are forced to navigate this field of eggshells without irritating men who have to work with them.  It never works.  If a group doesn’t have to accomodate you, it won’t.  If men find that they can exploit the working environment to take advantage of opportunities that women don’t have, they will.  It’s the same thing with corporate regulation.  If you let corporations get away with murder, they’ll murder.

That’s why it is so important that managers hold everyone accountable for their actions, collaboration and productivity.  Hey, it’s up to the managers if they want to get anything out of the women they hire.  If it starts looking like the females in your group aren’t as much in the know as the guys and their productivity isn’t as stellar so they continue to end up in the junior staff level year after year, maybe, you should look into the situation.  If you’re not going to take their expertise seriously and let them fend for themselves in a hostile, unchecked working environment, you might as well just hire all guys.  No, really.  Don’t waste your time with women if you don’t bother to find out if the environment they’re in is presenting obstacles to their productivity.

The second post comes from Rep. Carolyn Maloney in Huffington Post, who seems to have gotten all Emily Litella and is discussing another issue altogether.  I have to say that I’m disappointed in Maloney because she defends Obama’s record on women by citing examples that have nothing to do with the issues addressed in Suskind’s book.  Maloney says that Obama is committed to mothers breastfeeding and mothers’ concern for good nutrition and childhood obesity.  Huh?  Is this the same Carolyn who wrote about the 30% Solution in Rumors of Our Progress have been Greatly Exaggerated?  Curbing childhood obesity and getting a break to pump your breasts are pretty easy problems to solve compared to getting your share of recognition and responsibility at work.  And in that area, Obama has clearly shown himself to be decifient who seems to be insensitive to the way guys in his White House have muscled their female colleagues out of the way.  Come on, Carolyn, women are more than mothers.  Maybe it would help if you read the book first to know what the problems were.  Anita Dunn and Christina Romer are not commenting on their inability to meet their parental responsibilities at work.

I realize that a lot of Democrats are invested in Obama and don’t want to admit that he’s been less than a feminist so as not to scare off the womens’ vote in 2012.  But they’d be doing all women in all walks of life a huge favor if they confronted the issue head on and demanded a full investigation of the data.  Without that investigation and exposing the underlying hidden power structure for the country to see in all its ugly detail, we will continue to sweep the problem under the rug and perpetuate the problem in politics and throughout business.

Reading this book has convinced me that Obama is not a feminist.  Just because he appointed Hillary Clinton to State (hardly the first female in that position) and two women to the Supreme Court (we’re still underrepresented there.  After all, we are 51% of the population.  So, one or two more justices should do it.), doesn’t mean he is aware of the inequities of the workplace or is laying down the law there so that men are accountable for their behavior.  If anything, Suskind’s book reinforces the sense that Obama lives very much in a guy’s world and that world mentored and financed him for reasons that seem inexplicable to me.  Unless, that is, he is the physical and mental epitome of guyness that other guys instantly relate to.  And since guys usually have the power and the money, Hillary Clinton never had a chance once Obama came on the scene.  It’s hard to believe that the four years of a weak Obama administration may be attributed to the fact that Hillary was not a guy but, sadly, I think that’s the conclusion I’m coming to.  I thought it might be policy or intelligence or personality or something we just didn’t know about.  But no.  It might just be as simple as her inability to project a certain kind of cool masculinity to the wealthy, aggressive powerbrokers.  Obama’s comfortable with the guy thing and has no intention of rocking the boat, because it is working so well for him.  So, we shouldn’t be surprised that his White House is hostile to women who have to work there.  After all, they’re probably thinking they were hired because of their experience, intelligence and hard work.  And look where that got Hillary.  How could they know that they didn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi?

Suskind’s fawning prose that intends to illustrate how “brilliant” Obama is as a politician and speaker is probably the weakest part of the book.  Those sections go on at length and really needed an editor.  But I am giving him a chance to make his argument.  I keep waiting for the brilliance to illuminate me but, sadly, it just doesn’t. After Suskind quotes some passage of one of Obama’s speeches that I am supposed to find inspirational and stirring, I think, “That’s it?  That’s all there is?  Hang on a minute, let me rewind this thing.  Ok, {{listen, listen}}, no, I just don’t get it.”  Clearly, I am missing that gene (probably on the Y chromosome) that will allow me to appreciate Obama for the amazing orator that he is.  His campaign staff should take that into consideration.  His Obamaessence just doesn’t resonate with some of us. Some of us are unreasonable sticklers for results.

Or maybe we should re-evaluate our impressions of Obama based on the evidence, not on some intangible quality that can only be detected by people who want to be just like him.   Maybe he’s just a guy who got carried into the White House on the shoulders of other guys and is unaware of how he is inflicting guyness on his female staff to their detriment.  Maybe he’s not anything special and people like Suskind should stop trying so hard to convince us that he is.   And this guy is no feminist.

34 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, a woman who tries to assert herself is labeled “abrasive”,

    The first hurdle women face in a man’s world is a subconscious problem. A boy must rebel against his mother in order to grow up. To go back and take a woman’s views or orders may make a man feel like children again at the subconscious level. I know it doesn’t make sense because the woman worker is not a wife or mother, but to the subconscious they may be perceived the same. The second biggest hurdle facing women is that other women who will turn against them for “not being nice”. Btw, it’s not a problem that’s faced only at the workplace, but all over. It’s a problem women face buying a car or anytime she “invades” a man’s world.

    Bill Clinton is one those few men who are not afraid to allow a woman to be an equal. That’s why Hillary Clinton brought a great balancing energy to Bill Clinton’s presidency. But then, I doubt that Hillary would have accepted anything but equality in the partnership.

    • Well, if you guys know those things are a problem on your end, “stop doing those things”, as Elizabeth Warren would say.
      Whatever the problem is in your head is not something we have provoked. Get over it already. We just want to do our jobs to the best of our ability without having to always wonder if some asshole is going to steal our projects.

      • I only explained what’s happening in our and other patriarchal cultures. Subconscious behavior is hidden from the conscious. And in rare occasions when one sees the bad behavior, it’s difficult to stop. That’s why people may know that drinking and drugs are bad for their health and their lives, but they can’t stop. In the situation of women, they too are in a subconscious trap. Most of the women usually conform to the roolz men set.

        The root of the problem would need to be addressed in childhood because that’s where the subconscious patterns develop.

        • I know what the reasons are but I disagree that curing the problem requires any understanding of male subconscious impulses. We’ve wasted too much time trying to appease the fragile male identity. It has been the wrong approach.
          What we need are clear guidelines on how to conduct business that ensures women will not be excluded and then we need to monitor tge system to make sure those rules are enforced and then we need to hold people accountable. What you feel about working with women us irrelevent. What you do is something we can fix.

          • I disagree that curing the problem requires any understanding of male subconscious impulses

            I never said that understanding the subconscious cures the problem. Subconscious behavior is automatic, and like I stated with the drug users, even when understood, the behavior won’t stop. Women could put the fear of god in men if they display chauvinistic behavior, but that’s a difficult road for women too.

          • And my point is that even bringing tge subject up is detrimental.
            We have to stop expecting women to tap dance around make egos. Personally, I don’t care what they feel any more than they care what I feel. Seriously. Your collective unconscious is just not all that interesting to most women.
            What we care about is not using that as an excuse to run roughshod over your female colleagues. And the only way that’s going to happen is if the management lays down tge law and then rigorously enforces it. No more unofficial meetings. No more leaving people off the email or meeting list. No more unchecked aggressiveness when some guy wants his female colleague’s project and starts backroom maneuvers to get it. No more after school activities where only one fender is invited to participate. No more meetings where women are ignored or interrupted or lashed out at verbally in front of her peers (I have seen this personally and instantly came to loathe the guys who did it to a colleague of mine). No more. Measure it, monitor it, punish the perpertrators until it stops.
            I’ll bet they don’t have this problem at State because Hillary wouldn’t put up with it and everyone who works for her knows it. so, maybe Obama needs to have Hillary mentor him on his managerial skills because he’s sure as hell not going to get any insight from his male senior staff.

      • I once asked a young American girl what she wanted from marriage. I was curious about what was in the subconscious. She said she wanted to be “taken care of, protected, treated like a princess”. She didn’t say it that succinctly, but the ideas were simple enough. It was the Cinderella story. It’s not an uncommon response. There’s a price women pay for being cared for, and many women don’t seem to get the connection. I was shocked when I visited a Muslim country. Women were the keepers of the roolz and were more abusive towards the women who didn’t toe the line. Women ratted out other women instead of protecting them. I’m not putting these women down because I know their survival and safety depends on being cared for.

        • I’ve worked for and with women. Women are like any other kind of people. There are nice ones and mean ones. But my work experience with my former female supervisor at last job was a very positive one. I guess it depends on whether you want to accomplish something or climb tge caterer ladder. IMHO, managers who are climbing the ladder are the absolute worst people to work for regardless of gender.
          I’ve always aspired to take care of myself. Marriage is supposed to be a partnership of mutual support. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.

          • My comments are general, not to be taken for specific individuals. My best bosses were women, my worst boss was a man. Women were extremely demanding (perfectionists) and very good workers.

        • I wouldn’t generalize managerial skills based on gender. My two best bosses were male and female. Again, the people who make work a demanding but pleasureable experience are the ones who are focussed on accomplishing something they feel passionate about. The worst are the ones who are plotting and conspiring to get their next position the very day they are promoted to be your boss. They don’t work for anything or anyone but themselves. It ruins a department and everyone’s work suffers.

    • A boy must rebel against his mother in order to grow up.

      Yup, which is also why many sons of single mothers become hyper-masculine. With out a strong male role model to help them figure out how to detach from Mom without going overboard and out of control.

  2. “His Obamaessence just doesn’t resonate with some of us.”

    It’s never resonated with me because I never heard passion and empathy from him, only exhortation. When Elizabeth Warren, for example, was speaking on The Rachel Maddow program the other night she brought tears to my eyes. So the question for me is, why do the Obama-swooners react swooningly to him. What is wrong with these people.

    • Maybe the women don’t want to be called raycists. That’s a powerful weapon. But behind closed doors, they can tell Suskind how bad things are.

    • Beats me. I’ve tried and tried and tried to locate the source of his ineffable brilliance and no matter how hard I try, it just isn’t happening. In my case, I’ve spent so many years trying to make sense of scientific presentations and my own projects that I think I’ve developed a habit of finding the holes in the arguments. Maybe that’s something many Whole Foods Nation types aren’t used to. Of course, there were a lot of early babyboomers who came of age during the civil rights era but before the feminist era who still see the world in the light of 1966.
      Mostly, I think it is a guy thing. Obama set out to seduce the guys and knew the women would follow.
      We passed up the more qualified candidate because of guy bias. What a tragic outcome for the country just we leaded needed a guy who the wealthy traders on wall street felt an affinity for.

  3. Phyllis Schlafly did more damage to the women movement than any man. The current women who are supposed to be the keepers of the women movement hurt their cause when they didn’t go ballistic over the misogyny in the 2008 campaign. Supporting Obama was only part of the damage.

  4. “It’s hard to believe that the four years of a weak Obama administration may be attributed to the fact that Hillary was not a guy but, sadly, I think that’s the conclusion I’m coming to.”


  5. That’s a good piece from WaPo, and even though I don’t think excerpts really does it justice … here’s one more:

    It helps a great deal to have a history with the person who becomes the boss — when Dick Morris once threatened to “tell on her to the president,” [Elaine] Kamarck said, “Fine, good; tell him Elaine thinks this is a bad idea.”

    Good one. 😀

    And curious about who Diane Rehm – mentioned in the story – was, I looked her up. Wow, what a fascinating woman, with quite an exceptional history.

  6. “If they’re going to continue to prop up guy culture, they ought to ask themselves, what’s in it for them? ”

    Careers. Speaking truth to power is a career killer…and their jobs are to ” speak” for women so no one has to hear from women. That’s their job: muzzle women

    “Suskind’s fawning prose that intends to illustrate how “brilliant” Obama is as a politician and speaker is probably the weakest part of the book”

    Simply would not be published without it . This is suppose to be a a begie wash history book…Obama doesn’t do this now! /snark. But it’s like any one protesting Obie, MUST slso ay “I will vote for him anyway”.

    “Maybe he’s just a guy who got carried into the White House on the shoulders of other guys and is unaware of how he is inflicting guyness on his female staff to their detriment.”

    Mr.” Not now Sweetie”?

    Like he gives a fuck when he isn’t laughing about it.

    • I don’t know how intentional it is. Maybe he just lives and breathes so much air born testosterone, he hasn’t figured out any other way to operate. But indifference is worse than malice, IMHO.

      • Obie doesn’t give off any masculine energy that I can detect. He does look good in a suit in a male model way. Maybe he makes other men feel macho by comparison. Never got the so-called orator skills, but20-something Jon Favreau did write those high-maudlin speeches that would appeal to the college crowd.

        One phrase from the big debut speech at the 2004 convention when he was trying out for future anointment runs through my head with my own ending leaping in.

        We are not the red states. We are not the blue states. We are the purple people eater states.

        Nope, never got even state rep potential out of this man.

        • Honest to chthulu, I absolutely can’t figure out what all these people saw in him. Paul volcker, who endorsed him, said, “he’s smart but smart isnt enough. You have to know how to manage.”. Why did it take a Volcker to figure it out? Plus, smart is not the same as dazzlingly brilliant. This book has guys swooning all over him because of his amazing intellect. I dunno, I guess I have met a lot of brilliant people in my life and Obama just doesn’t fit that category. You’d think the truly brilliant ones on his team would see through him tho. And maybe they did. Obama got rolled by summers and geithner. A bit like pinnochio meeting those two ne’erdowells that take him to Pleasure Island.
          If he were that gifted, he should have seen that coming. Recollections of the policy discussions on the economy make him sound really out of his depth. Embarrassingly so. Like a college student who is in love with his ability to understand Kant in his first philosophy course. Cringeworthy.

        • “high-maudlin” speeches?

  7. In the military when they have staff officer meetings they start with the lowest ranking officer and ask for questions, ideas and/or comments. Then they work their way up in rank until everyone has a chance to speak. That way they know the lower ranks aren’t just agreeing with their superiors.

    A good boss will make sure everyone at the meeting gets a full opportunity to participate without interruption. If somebody tries to talk over another person the boss will put a stop to it.

    This of course assumes that the boss is listening to everyone and is not part of the problem.

    It should be pointed out that Obama had no executive experience when he took office.

    • Actually not all that different from the way Diane Rehm – mentioned in the WaPo article RD linked to – conducts interviews including persons of both gender.

      To her the

      conversational style differences between men and women are marked.
      As the host, she makes sure to maintain eye contact with her female guests, so they know someone in the room is hearing them.

      (My emphasis.)

  8. Hospitals face drug price-gouging


    The shortages, mainly involving widely-used generic injected drugs that ordinarily are cheap, have been delaying surgeries and cancer treatments, leaving patients in unnecessary pain and forcing hospitals to give less effective treatments. That’s resulted in complications and longer hospital stays.

    Just over half of the 549 U.S. hospitals responding to a survey this summer by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a patient safety group, said they had purchased one or more prescription drugs from so-called “gray market vendors”— companies other than their normal wholesalers. Most also said they’ve had to do so more often of late, and 7 percent reported side effects or other problems…….

    • Generics should not be of an inferior quality than the brand names they were based on. Sooo, I’m going to guess that expiration dates and stability issues are what is causing side effects.
      Yeah, if only the government would step in and do something…
      That would mean they knew there was a problem. But DC is going into campaign mode now. Who has time for real work?

      • seems part of the pattern of our becoming third world… whether by design or disinterest , much is held hostage and is an opportunity for graft and gouging. Certainly those in DC have plentiful ,fresh drugs….so where the problem?

        They are leaving us behind medically as well as finacally,,,sort of the same thing really

        • I’m not sure that even the privileged have access to the drugs that are in short supply. Think of it this way, you can’t hoard chemotherapy drugs in advance for your own personal use. How would you know you would even need them? And even if you were OCD enough to do it, you’d have to get a prescription for a pre-existing condition. What do you tell your doctor? “Can you give me a prescription for chemotherapy for {{checks list in hand}} colon, breast, brain and bone cancer? Oh and throw in a little something for leukemia and lymphoma. Yeah, that ought to do it. Hmmm? No particular reason, I just want to be prepared.”
          No, you can’t. So, unfortunately, a wealthy or well connected person is probably not significantly better off than some poor schlub from Milwaukee. A shortage is a shortage. It’s got to come from somewhere and when the supply runs out, that’s it. You get stuck with whatever’s on the gray market.
          Republicans think de-regulation is all hunky-dory until they lose a relative. And sometimes, regulation is good for an industry even if it chafes under the constraints of doing the right thing. The pharma industry is one of those industries that should not be allowed to run wild like some undisciplined adolescent without a curfew. It needs rules to make it function well. It also needs rewards, which Democrats seem reluctant to give it. So, it goes with the Republicans on a fairly regular basis because they will let it stay out late and eat junk food.
          And then people die.
          It’s sad to think that’s what it will take to focus attention on what ails the industry but unfortunately, nothing else seems to be working.

          • Republicans think de-regulation is all hunky-dory until they lose a relative

            Only if they feel the bribe wasn’t high enough. These people would steal the pennies off their dead mother’s eyes.

  9. do thy still do that? 🙂

  10. “How could [the women] know they didn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi?”

    Is “je ne sais quoi” French for “pecker”? 😛

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