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.

Politico TheArena logo

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.

 

An Auspicious D.C. Tea Party

Change is in the air this week in Washington, D.C. “This is what happens when they ban smoking in those smoke-filled rooms,” observed Congresswoman Rosa De Lauro (D-CT) as she welcomed some 1,000 women to high tea January 3 in honor of the first female speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

The mood in the Mellon Auditorium on Capitol Hill was buoyant among this gathering of partisans and issue advocates. Many, like me, have tasted both victory and defeat time after time in the struggle to advance liberty and justice for women. Now, with Nancy Pelosi leading a newly elected Democratic majority, a question was raised repeatedly in conversations throughout the elegant hall: “Will this time really be different?”

Change can be elusive in a Washington culture that seems to suffer from attention deficit disorder. But a more enduring transformation could be seen in the nature of the audience itself. Collectively, these women had raised or given millions of dollars and worked millions of hours on behalf of candidates. Women have always been the envelope stuffers and door-knock organizers in political campaigns. Now—thanks to the clout that results from gains in economic equality won through many election cycles—we’re also writing the big checks. And we’re writing them for the causes and candidates we choose from bank accounts we have earned ourselves. Continue reading “An Auspicious D.C. Tea Party”