Obama, the first female president?

Someone is wrong on the internet!

Cartoon via XKCD

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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52 comments for “Obama, the first female president?

  1. July 2, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I think there is a certain perverse linguistic skill it takes to, with one statement, assert that a male is female, that females all share the same traits, and that those traits are undesirable, particularly for a politician to be effective. Or maybe that’s just (unfortunately) the way a lot of people think.

  2. leedevious
    July 2, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    I think Parker should practice what she preaches and stop talking so much. ;D

  3. July 2, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    After finishing this post, I dashed over to Language Log to find one of their many excellent posts about linguistically ignorant pundits calling out politicians for using passive-voice constructions which aren’t actually passive-voice constructions. And what do you know, their most recent post on the subject is about this very Kathleen Parker article. Here it is, I recommend it!

  4. Bitter Scribe
    July 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Parker hastens to reassure us:

    I say this in the nicest possible way.

    Of course you do.

    Remind me again how this woman won a Pulitzer?

  5. July 2, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I can’t blame you a bit for being incoherent with rage for two whole days about that article. How DO you combat something like that? It’s so insidious, and worse, written by a woman giving it that much more insidious “weight”! ERG. Fury seems appropriate right now.

    ~Lia

  6. matlun
    July 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    That op-ed is almost a self parody. I mean: “I’m not calling Obama a girlie president. But . . .” followed by an op-ed basically doing just that. Is this the work of a professional journalist?

    She would not be the first to argue that a big part of Obama’s problem is that he does not act forcefully enough, but the whole attempt to do this in the form of a gender discussion is just a failure.

  7. Frowner
    July 2, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    I feel like this is raced, too…it’s like, if Obama were being “masculine enough”–whatever that means–he’d be seen as too manly, because African-American men are never deemed to perform masculinity correctly.

  8. Frowner
    July 2, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Sorry-Never deemed to perform masculinity correctly by mainstream/white media.

  9. July 2, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, but Parker seems to have undercut all women by this “analysis” including herself. By this logic, she’s not a good enough columnist because she’s not masculine enough.

  10. Holy!
    July 2, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Obama doesn’t act forcefully enough. He often just fails to act, period. It doesn’t have anything to do with femininity or masculinity though.

  11. July 2, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Why is it we always have to base our analysis on gender and / or ethnicity? Can’t a person simply be genuinely who they are? As for me I choose balance … JF

  12. Rhoanna
    July 2, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    If you thought that was bad, Kathleen Parker has an even worse follow-up.

  13. July 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Now I’m confused. Didn’t President Bush (II) make a big deal out of building a coalition to invade Iraq? But this is a womanly thing to do? Um, right.

  14. Northeast Elizabeth
    July 2, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    There were similar misogynistic attacks on Al Gore during his 2000 presidential campaign. He was criticized for wearing earth tones and being too feminine. It’s interesting that the right is now trying to smear him from the opposite direction, accusing him of violence against women.

    • July 2, 2010 at 9:20 pm

      There were similar misogynistic attacks on Al Gore during his 2000 presidential campaign. He was criticized for wearing earth tones and being too feminine. It’s interesting that the right is now trying to smear him from the opposite direction, accusing him of violence against women.

      Um, it’s not “the right” that’s accusing him of violence against women. It’s an actual woman.

  15. Bitter Scribe
    July 2, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    To be fair, she’s not saying anything that Maureen “Obambi” Dowd hasn’t already said a lot more glibly.

  16. Tahi
    July 2, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    When I read her article it seems like she’s trying to agree that gender stereotypes are pretty fucking awful, but completely fails because her entire argument is steeped in them. She’s arguing that gender stereotypes are unfortunate and irreversible, instead of treating them like the social constructs they are — reversible and to be fought against.

    As for Clinton’s upbringing and demeanor earning him the “right” to be called the first black president, I’m not sure what’s worse — that one color is being ascribed to poverty or that a decade ago, the closest African-Americans would get to the highest political office was through a white man.

  17. July 2, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Man. My main reaction to the pieces you quoted was definitely, “I wish Alan Alda WOULD run for office…” Possibly I missed her point somehow.

  18. July 2, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    …why would people want more male worlds leader again?

    I mean, seriously. The last time we had an all-male world leader club, we ended hanging the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction over our heads.

    Why would we want that again? Why can’t we have someone who insists on showing off their brains instead of how extra large their penis is?

  19. ether
    July 2, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I only read this site for feminist viewpoints, and I agree with much of this post… but common, leave poor Spitzer alone.

    He was “disgraced” in his personal life, but continues to be relentless in his attacks on Wall St. and the banksters.

    He isn’t the devil.

    At least the lady he was paying to release his second chakra was a willing party to the deal.

  20. Ostien
    July 2, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    “Women, inarguably, still are punished for failing to adhere to gender norms by acting “too masculine” or “not feminine enough.””

    And from her article is seem men are punished too. Woooo equality!

    ::sobs brokenly::

  21. jay
    July 3, 2010 at 1:30 am

    In U.S presidential campaigns, feminizing a candidate is a surefire way to send poll numbers plummeting. happens all the time.

  22. eibhear
    July 3, 2010 at 2:21 am

    I’m too tired to really get into this (it’s 8.15 in the morning over here, and I’ve already been up for yonks reading and commenting on Julie Bindel’s anti-porn article in “The Guardian”), but I’d just like to ask, is that woman completely bleeding barmy?

  23. Ellis
    July 3, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Jesus H Christ, how did this shit get into a mainstream magazine? In this day and age? Honestly? It goes to show you little our views on gender have changed. And there is also the covert racism in Ms. Parkers piece. Anyone who has a working knowledge of racism in America knows that the O’man,because he is Black, is caught in a catch 22. If he acts to aggressive and stereotypically masculine, he will be branded a uppity negro or Angry Black or a Buck. If he acts to passive, he will be seen as a steppin fetchit and too lazy or not serious enough. Obama can’t win.

    Besides this article being sexist towards women, it is also sexist towards men. It tries to paint men as status obsessed competition freaks and all women as nurturing care givers,and the sad part is so many people believe this shit. I hate this so much because the geeky guys or men who aren’t interested in sports and being arrogant freaks or sleeping around get ostracised, are considered to have weaker character, and beating up by not just other patriarchal men,but also patriarchal women as well. It’s so childish and so stupid.

    Also, one last comment, the fact that Parker can be a pundit and say this deeply ignorant shit makes me mentally and physically sick. I always suspected it didn’t take much to be a pundit, and this proves it.

  24. July 3, 2010 at 11:24 am

    1) Parker is stupid
    2) She’s getting air time because she’s a lapdog of the patriarchy, which explains the Pulitzer (run by men) and CNN (need we say more)
    3) It’s CNN

  25. July 3, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    There are a whole pack of Kathleen Parker types writing op-ed pieces in American newspapers. They’re popular because they write obnoxious things that play on people’s prejudices, and thus help sell newspapers, ads on TV, etc. People tune in to see what ridiculous thing this person will say next about who. It’s a vicious cycle.

    “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. ” The sad thing is that more and more, the mainstream media is neither “serious” nor credible. When you have stories about American Idol voting side by side with commentaries on President Obama, treated as if they have equal weight, there’s something terribly wrong. And yet, too many people just ingest whatever is printed or delivered by their favorite talking heads as the truth.

  26. July 3, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Jusus on a purple pogo-stick. This is one of many reasons why I stopped paying attention to the mainstream media.

    The whole trope of “male democratic candidate/politician as girly-man” is older than the hills. I’m left wondering what percentage of the US populace actually continues to mature after leaving high school. “You’re a woman/girl/faggot” comments abounded when I graduated from high school in 1986. I see they merit publication as entire opinion pieces in adult-run newspapers twenty-four years later.

    Grow the fuck up, people.

    That is all.

  27. Northeast Elizabeth
    July 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    The right has certainly employed a woman to utter the charges against Gore. But unless you believe there’s some vast left-wing conspiracy in the mainstream media and the blogosphere to protect him, you’d have to dismiss the claims out of hand. I haven’t seen anyone except right-wing propagandists out to ruin Gore defend the woman or her accusations.

  28. Athenia
    July 3, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    Obama has a clit of steel, yo. Clit. Of. Steel.

  29. July 3, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Great post. Parker’s article was a complete fail. Basically could have been summed up by “he throws like a girl” and has all the same fatal flaws.

    I agree with Jill: “Um, it’s not “the right” that’s accusing him of violence against women. It’s an actual woman.” Parker, after all, supported Obama in the primary, and is fairly centrist. And as pointed out above, Maureen Dowd, as well as plenty of male lefties, have made “throws like a girl” arguments. This isn’t some kind of partisan slam, it’s a sexist slam from someone criticizing Obama’s style rather than content.

  30. sophonisba
    July 3, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    I haven’t seen anyone except right-wing propagandists out to ruin Gore defend the woman or her accusations.

    Defend her? From what, exactly? I took you to be some random person on a blog, not part of a coordinated attack force.

  31. Northeast Elizabeth
    July 4, 2010 at 12:12 am

    Defend her from Gore’s charges that she invented the assault to make money from selling her story. If her charges were deemed to be credible, there would be countless posts from the left of the blogosphere (and particularly feminist blogs) taking her side. I haven’t seen any.

  32. July 4, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    Wow. Kathleen Parker is older than I am, which would make her old enough to remember all the criticism Jimmy Carter received for his supposed lack of masculinity (I remember distinct comparisons of Carter to Alan Alda. In fact, I’ll just go there and say that a lot of the white-male swing vote that was responsible for the Reagan elections was based on the “eww! girly-men Democrats!!” media imagery).

    So. Side order of sexism to go with the entree of ahistoricity, while pretending racism isn’t even on the menu. Tasty. *snicker.

  33. sophonisba
    July 4, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    If her charges were deemed to be credible, there would be countless posts from the left of the blogosphere (and particularly feminist blogs) taking her side. I haven’t seen any.

    Actually, if her charges were deemed to be credible, the Portland police department would have re-opened the case. Oh, look.

    It may stun you, but there are those of us who believe that sexual assault is a crime, not a sexy gossip-column entry, and that reporting a crime does not make a woman a voluntary public figure of the sort whose personal habits and character are our business to make up imaginary stories about.

    I am happy to consider Al Gore innocent until proven guilty, even though it is only the court system which is legally bound to do so, because I am just generous like that. I have nothing but contempt for anyone who is not willing to accord the woman for whom you have such an irrational hate-on the same courtesy.

  34. smmo
    July 4, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    This isn’t some kind of partisan slam, it’s a sexist slam from someone criticizing Obama’s style rather than content.

    Parker is a National Review writer. She’s about as centrist as Sean Hannity.

    I personally love when the right tries to get all navel gazey because they’re generally so bad at it that articles like this are the result. Toni Morrison can make observations of this sort (Clinton as first Black president) because she’s Toni Morrison, but Kathleen Parker is, well, Kathleen Parker.

  35. July 4, 2010 at 9:06 pm

    Wow. Another South Carolinian just makes me wanna hang my head in embarrassment. This op-ed by Kershaw County’s Kathleen Parker was complete FAIL from start to finish.

    And incidents like this is precisely what NOW was talking about in their just-completed Conference in Boston. Susan Douglas was explaining how advancements of women are being turned into emasculation of men by the media during the conference.

  36. Northeast Elizabeth
    July 4, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    I have nothing but contempt for anyone who is not willing to accord the woman for whom you have such an irrational hate-on the same courtesy.

    if my premise is that she’s lying to destroy Al Gore, the hate is justified rather than irrational. I’m mystified by your notion that I someone a “courtesy” of belief merely because she’s alleging a sexual assault. If that was the case, it would seem that YOU would owe her the “courtesy” of not according Gore the presumption of innocence.

  37. bleh
    July 5, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Funny, I always teach that passive voice is a tool of the patriarchy because it hides who did what to whom. “women are oppressed” “bad things were done” “people got hurt”

    Who knew that it was just a weak grammatical tic of testosteronally disadvantaged types.

  38. July 5, 2010 at 9:00 am

    I’m sorry, wtf is up with some people who are ordinarily feminists pulling this shit about “she wasn’t raped, she’s just doing it for the attention/money/???” in the case of Al Gore?

  39. Northeast Elizabeth
    July 5, 2010 at 9:25 am

    Yonah, “ordinary feminists” aren’t required to accept as true every accusation of sexual assault. As with every other type of allegation, one considers the various parties’ accounts and the evidence presented. In this particular case, the accuser’s account is so inherently unbelievable that it doesn’t matter that she’s given a 73-page statement compared to Gore’s two sentence denial through a spokeswoman.

    And it’s not just “ordinary feminists” who reject the accuser’s claims. Not a single feminist blog has done a post critical of Gore. In view of the seriousness of his conduct, I’m pretty sure it would be all they were posting about if the claims against him had any merit.

  40. KarenDotCom
    July 5, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I take from her article that Women=Bad, Men=Good. So by her logics she needs to STFU and make me a sandwich.

  41. Brennan
    July 5, 2010 at 3:25 pm

    Imagine my disappointment when I realized this was not a post about Michelle’s plans for 2016 or even what Malia wants to be when she grows up . . . I really should get over this optimism thing.

    I honestly can’t say which was worse: the original “he talks like a girl” editorial or the follow-up “Oops, forgot about the whole ‘racism’ thing, but y’know he’s not really black.” I’m a little concerned that the clumsy follow-up referenced the race!fail that she apparently had just learned from the comments, but not any of the horribly sexist assumptions she made.

    I’d like to see this whole nonsense of gendered “rhetorical traditions” die a quick and bloody death. Preferably in a fire. The column accuses the President of lacking “rhetorical-testosterone,” continuing in the disgusting tradition of conflating personality types, communication styles, and basic human decision-making with some sort of biological imperative. Communicating, be it typing on a keyboard or reading off of a teleprompter, requires no testosterone whatsoever. /rant

    Wow, after that “manly outburst” I better check and make sure my ladyparts aren’t falling out.

  42. July 6, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    “Parker is a National Review writer.”

    Um, no — she was tossed from NR because of her support for Obama and critiques of Palin, among other things.

  43. smmo
    July 7, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Sorry Octogalore. I’m just not as up on the right wing as you are. For obvious reasons.

  44. Anne
    July 7, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    Kathleen Parker managed to insult not only women, but also men, by resurrecting archaic 1950’s gender stereotypes. But her apparent disdain for thinking before speaking and coalition-building are even more baffling. Those traits are neither male nor female, but are among the hallmarks of mature, thinking ADULTS

  45. July 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    SMMO — then, probably best not to make claims if indeed you’re not up on the subject matter.

  46. smmo
    July 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm

    My original point – that Parker is obviously right wing – is accurate. But enjoy yourself Octogalore.

  47. July 9, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    It’s always fun, SMMO.

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