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You may have read this terrible op-ed by Kathleen Parker, a Washington Post opinion columnist, published a couple of days ago. It was burning up my Twitter feed all day. In it, Kathleen Parker argues that Barack Obama is our first female president. Yes, that is what she said. And she proceeds to make a terrible case that can be summed up as such: Obama is a terrible president because he is not manly enough. He is acting like a woman, and losing political points because of it.
I was annoyed enough that I couldn’t even formulate a coherent response for two days. Fortunately, some bloggers I know and love, such as Rachel Sklar and Mary C. Curtis, did a pretty good job of vocalizing why this column was so disgusting.
Now, I will try to add something of my own.
Parker’s case for Obama being “female” is as follows: he has a testosterone shortage, he “displays many tropes of femaleness,” and that he is like all women, who “tend to be coalition builders rather than mavericks (with the occasional rogue exception). While men seek ways to measure themselves against others, for reasons requiring no elaboration, women form circles and talk it out.” She also adds that Obama is “is a chatterbox who makes Alan Alda look like Genghis Khan,” and that his speech on the oil spill “featured 13 percent passive-voice constructions.”
I think the reason I didn’t write about this before was just because I didn’t know where to start. I mean: there are so many problems! Kathleen Parker would say that this is because I am a female who is passive and meek and likes to “talk it out” rather than issue a straight-up takedown of someone. So now I will try to list just all the big glaring things she is WRONG about:
1) The overarching message that being a president is a role reserved only for men
2) The notion that there are a strict set of traits that are inherently female and inherently male
3) The idea that stepping out of traditional gender roles always has negative consequences
4) That Kathleen Parker is given a platform from which to broadcast her opinions, something few people are given, and she chooses to use it perpetuating 1950s-style gender stereotypes that we should have done away with by 2010
5) The minor aside that this is a poorly written piece filled with bad metaphors, hollow statements, very little research, broad generalizations, and almost no facts.
7) Her admission of the fact that, yes, women are often faced with sexism when running for political office, and her attitude that women should just man up if they want to make it in politics. Perhaps the only decent sentence in this entire piece is as follows:
Women, inarguably, still are punished for failing to adhere to gender norms by acting “too masculine” or “not feminine enough.”
But Parker then proceeds to ruin it by talking about how the only way to be a good politician is to be more “masculine.”
What mystifies me is that presumably serious publications such as the Washington Post give people like Kathleen Parker a platform from which to voice this kind of terrible crap, and then PEOPLE BELIEVE THEM. I have already seen plenty of white dudes read this and chuckle and scratch their heads as if actually considering it seriously. It is because of stuff like this that women continue to face struggles in being elected to office: at every possible opportunity, people like Kathleen Parker question whether women can make effective political leaders and posit that political leadership requires inherently “masculine” traits. She makes broad generalizations about how all women act, and then claims that these “feminine” traits are negative and are not suited for politics. Those damn females! They talk so much and they use passive voice constructions! Clearly this is why they cannot be president!
As an aside, Parker was recently offered a gig co-hosting a new CNN show with none other than the disgraced criminal and former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. This is where I shake my head and wonder what is going on with our media.
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