Suskind Flap: Is the Obama administration sexist?

You might look at my headline and reply, “Is the Pope Catholic?” because you agree with my contention that institutional sexism is bound to exist in a structure so traditionally male-dominated. Read on and let me know what you think about Arena’s question of whether the new Suskind book’s revelations about the treatment of women in the White House will damage Obama.

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Arena Asks: Tuesday’s release of a new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind is causing heartache at the White House. “Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President” describes a difficult work environment for women in the Obama administration’s early months, among other revelations. How much, if at all, will the book damage the Obama White House? And did staffers err in giving access to the author, who previously wrote books often critical of the George W. Bush administration?

My Answer:It should come as no surprise to anyone that institutional sexism exists in the White House, as it does in virtually all leadership structures traditionally run by men, progressive or conservative. Suskind’s findings were hardly new or unique to the Obama administration.

True, Obama should be more sensitive because he has experienced institutional racism. So women rightly expect better of him, but hey, in the end, he is still a man’s man who does business on the golf course or over a beer. When Obama appointed a largely male (and largely white men associated with either Obama’s campaign or previous administrations) team of top advisors, it was clear women could expect business as usual: they would not be taken into the inner circles nor would their voices be heard at the same decibels as men’s. Women experience this kind of subtle discrimination every day in almost every venue.

What was different this time–and this is huge–is that the women spoke up for themselves, demanded changes, and from evidence in Suskind’s book, got at least some of what they wanted. It is incumbent on women to embrace our own power to make these changes happen. If Obama shows a sincere and continuing commitment to erasing the institutional sexism and moving women to parity in the inner circles of power, he will not be hurt, but could actually benefit from this issue being aired in Suskind’s book.

 


Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.