Barack Obama's comments about the Californian Atttorney General(25 Posts)
Sorry if this is being talked about elsewhere. I'm aware he has apologised but I think it is just interesting that even a man like Barack Obama is able to lapse into this kind of casual sexism.
And shows why feminism remains so important.
Basically he was speaking after she had addressed a charity event, he then stood up to give his speech and said words along the lines of she's a wonderful lawyer, wonderful charity worker blah blah and she's also the best looking attorney general anywhere in the world.
Which for obvious reasons, is completely out of order. They are friends but she was very offended and he has apologised. However I think it just shows how society considers women's looks to be relevant in every and any context.
You never heard Thatcher describe any of her Cabinet colleagues as handsome.
No need to have mentioned it.
Weren't women foaming at the mouth ( & many on Mumsnet ) about how good looking Obama was when he was 1st elected?
Sorry, I can't get worked up about this, but I'd be fuming if I were his wife.
So you wouldn't be bothered if you made a presentation at work and then your boss stood up and said "that was fantastic well done. You've got great legs by the way."
Really? Fine. But I would.
Yes - if I didn't know him, but aren't they very good friends? it was unprofessional though you're right.
& he didn't say she had great legs, ( which is sexual ) he said she was good looking.
It's certainly a major lapse by a man who ought to know better. Who does know better, in fact, so why did it happen? It's way past time for men to start accepting that women are out there doing jobs and not looking for personal comments.
goodness, it's one thing for random mumsnetters to warble on about Obama's charms but they're not interacting in a professional capacity. The tragedy is that some of us don't even realise how inappropriate this is because it's such a normalised experience.
There wasn't all this fuss when Hilary Clinton said David Milliband was handsome.
It doesn't surprise me at all. He called a female reporter 'sweetie' when he was brushing off a question by her a few years ago, and he ran a sexist campaign against Hillary.
Oh gawd I do think the false equivalence arguments are simple-minded.
Calling David Milliband good-looking is not undermining him professionally. On the contrary, it enhances his status.
Drawing attention to a woman's looks reminds her (and us) that women are required to pass the patriarchal fuckability test.
There is NO fuckability test for men. It doesn't matter how ugly Kissinger was, it doesn't matter if Obama's is better looking than most politicians.
There is no equivalence because men are not constantly evaluated based on their looks while women are.
Agree with BBE. It's about there being a historical (and current) context of a power imbalance between men and women, in which men have the upper hand. In that context such remarks have a different force than if they were made in the absence of that dynamic, and are thus inappropriate.
For example, this is why when a Republican House Representative called Obama 'boy', he rightly got shat on because this word used to be a racist term for adult black men. In a context where black Americans have been/are oppressed, it doesn't just mean 'young male' when a white man says it to a black man.
BBE; Yes, I can see what you're saying & completely agree. [still learning feminist ]
OMG someone called Obama Boy?
If you were really stupid, you could pretend that "Boy" means nothing, it's just a word for a male child, why should anyone be offended?
No-one (sensible) would ever seek to de-contextualise a comment like that and pretend there's no need for offence - no-one would ever say it's just like calling a white man, boy.
But people use that false equivalence argument all the time when it comes to women and men and it is so mindless.
Just a quick update. Obama has since apologised for that remark so he at least does seem to listen a bit.
Absolutely disgraceful, but it doesn't surprise me at all.
It makes me quite sad to hear this, really. I imagine it didn't just roll off his tongue either, as I can only assume someone with such authority and importance has everything scripted (hopefully by himself!) before public speaking, to avoid slip ups. I hope with hindsight that he genuinely knows that wasn't acceptable, and isn't just apologising for the sake of apology.
I know little about American politics, but I've watched him on television a few times in the past and thought he was a great speaker and stood for the right values, and I was under the impression (I don't know where I heard it) that he identifies as a feminist himself.
The comment was offensive and inappropriate, and contributes to a culture in which women, however accomplished in their professions, can expect to be casually objectified and judged publicly according to their looks.
I didn't see any indication anywhere that she was "very offended" though, OP - where did you read that? She had no comment, as far as I'm aware. Whether she was personally offended or not, it was offensive and Obama was right to apologise quickly. The "sweetie" remark to the female journalist was awful too.
The Democratic primary in 2008 was a dirty race, for sure. Obama and his campaign didn't speak out against the sexist media coverage of Clinton, and should have. But I don't remember any sexist remarks / ads coming from Obama or the campaign at the time and Google doesn't show up much - can you remind me what you're referring to, Phyllis ?
I do remember that the Clinton campaign relied heavily on racism, from brushing off Obama's win in South Carolina with references to Jesse Jackson having won there in '84 and '88 (the subtext that he only carried the state because he's black was very clear), to actually suggesting when she was way behind in May that the reason she wasn't conceding was the possibility (and it came across sounding horribly more like a hope) that Obama - who had received many credible death threats by racist extremist groups - might be assassinated before the convention. I cannot believe that a person as intelligent and experienced as she would not have known what she was doing by using Bobby Kennedy as the example of a frontrunner who didn't end up getting the nomination in the end (because he was dead by then).
It's a big stretch to make reference to the 2008 Democratic primary, and its ugly exploitation of the sexism and racism that is so deeply ingrained in American culture, without recognising that it occurred on both sides of the political fight.
I don't want to derail the thread though, because whatever racism President Obma faces, it doesn't excuse his own sexism.
I like Obama, but I think he is sexist in the way that well-intentioned men who aren't fully aware / accepting of the reality of male privilege can sometimes be. He really needs to work on it, and I think it's good that he got a big backlash for these most recent comments.
His comments about women's rights during this most recent campaign were so often phrased in terms of "our wives", "our daughters", "our sisters" having bodily autonomy, equal opportunity at work, etc., and the paternalistic language really grated on me.
I don't know why he finds it so hard to speak out against injustices against women, without basing his objection on the fact that they are some man's daughter, mother, or wife
BBE It was a while ago - possibly during the 2008 election.
Linus Throughout his campaign he used very subtle sexist dogwhistles in his speeches: here for some examples, as well as sitting back and letting the media do his work. And yes, Hillary used racist dogwhistles. It was a god awful unedifying mess all round.
However what worries me most is that it seems to have carried over into his presidency. There have consistently been reports from female staffers in the Obama White House that it is a hostile working environment for high level female staff. Ron Suskind, a well-respected journalist, wrote a book about the dysfunction of the Obama administration in its first years which includes concerns about the exclusion of women from the inner circle and the difficulty they have getting him to listen to their contributions. Time, WaPo.
So I am less inclined to see this sort of thing as well-intentioned ignorance than as a reflection of a set-up Obama is fully aware of but can't be bothered to correct because it is working for him and the men around him. Linus is right about the paternalism too.
Don't get me wrong - I am glad he won against McCain and Romney - but feminist icon he ain't.
Thanks for the links, Phyllis - I had forgotten about the "periodically feeling down" comment .
It is very disappointing, isn't it?
Talking about the rap tracks on his iPad, in an ill-advised effort to be down with the kids, Obama told Rolling Stone magazine:
"Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I've got a little Nas and a little Lil Wayne."
Lil Wayne! Even worse judgement than Gordon Brown showed with that embarrassing Arctic Monkeys thing. Seriously disappointing.
Well people often refer to him as very good looking which he is, I'm sure he believed that she would be as flattered by a nice complement on her looks as he is
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