Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Obama You've Got a Problem: Your Speechwriter's Sexism Reflects On You

The photo of President-elect Barack Obama's director of speechwriting Jon Favreau and another man wearing a "Obama Staff" T-shirt, in a pose with a life-size cardboard cutout of Sen. Hillary Clinton, is more than an embarrassing candid moment of fun caught on camera.

It is in no way comparable to a picture of an official posing in a skimpy swimsuit or underwear yet it has been compared to that type of embarrassing picture.

Favreau is the one shown groping the image of the secretary of state nominee while his friend mimics pouring a beer down her throat. This "fun" image shows an attitude which for those of us who have had alcohol used against us in this way know is in no way fun or harmless.

You don't pose like this as a "joke" unless you hold dangerous attitudes.

If Barack Obama lets this slide with an apology which fails to communicate understanding of why this "joke" pose isn't harmless, that communicates something important and not just to people like me who find it troubling. It communicates something important to those who use alcohol to overcome lack of consent and who believe they are doing absolutely nothing wrong.

If the unnamed man is still on the Obama staff, he needs to be held to the same standard as Favreau.

Not surprisingly, some of those who will dismiss this picture as harmless fun will turn around and lecture girls and woman about their drinking. Some of these people will go so far as to harshly judge a missing and possibly murdered woman for her alleged drinking (she was in a nightclub so she must have been binge drinking) while saying nothing against men who go to nightclubs and who commit acts of violence against women.

With the current rate of sexual violence against women, most of which is committed by non-strangers, the decision by some people to dismiss men who "act" as predators communicates either disregard or incompetence. This dismissive attitude is reflected in how sex crime laws are enforced and how jurors judge rape victims who drank prior to their rape.

The Violence Against Women Act cannot by itself stop sexual violence at the source even with unlimited funding so supporting that legislation is important but it is not a sufficient solution to sexual violence. We as citizens act in ways that either support this legislation or we act in ways that undermine this expensive and needed legislation.

Favreau and his friend acted in a way that undermines VAWA. That is in no way progressive and it is not evidence of positive change. Their behavior was old long before the first time I had a drink pushed down my throat. It was old long before 2 men almost killed me by pushing hard liquor down my throat.

For anyone to view the picture as anything less than deeply troubling they need to see coercive tactics used by boys and men against girls and women as respectable and fun behavior.

I read the many comments in the WaPo opinion piece about this pictures and a large percentage of them remind me about why by the end of the primary I wasn't sure I could vote for Obama. My concern was and is how beholden Obama is to those men who didn't seem willing to view all women as full human beings or those (men and women) who are hopelessly resigned to systemic and dangerous sexism.

From GoldnI:

I find myself extremely torn over this. On the one hand, it certainly is sexist and disrespectful, but on the other hand, I can't get too worked up over it. Maybe I'm just desensitized now, but it's hard for me to see it as any different from all of the ridiculous things I've seen drunk frat boys do over the last four years. [...]

That's why I can't get worked up over one isolated, boneheaded incident. I wish Obama would fire him for his stupidity, but I have far greater concerns right now. Liberals can't get too bogged down in fights over symbolism when the threats to women's lives are very real and very UN-symbolic.

The reason she can't get worked up about this photo is the exact reason this photo is so troubling to me and to many others. This photo is not an isolated incident, it is an incident which reflects many other incidents where the target wasn't a cardboard cutout.

This photo and the lack of concern about the message it sends helps to further normalize dangerous, abusive -- and appallingly common -- behavior.

What too many frat boys (and others) see as acceptable behavior is no such thing and it is more than an issue of immaturity. To ignore attitudes which enable sexual violence because of Bush administration policies which will hurt those raped at frat parties or after frat parties or elsewhere is short sighted.

Like Obama said after John McCain suspended his campaign to focus on the economic bailout, we can focus on more than one task at a time. We don't have to choose between fighting dangerous Bush administration policies which undermine women's rights and fighting dangerous attitudes about the treatment of girls and women from those who call themselves progressive.

If general attitudes -- even in progressive circles -- contradict great laws and policies those great laws and policies will fail or they will forever fall short.

The audacity of hope means nothing without the audacity to call out dangerous old habits and beliefs and to declare that they have no place in this time of change.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:21 AM   1 comments links to this post


At December 10, 2008 3:16 PM, Blogger JENNIFER DREW said...

Lack of concern about the message this appalling misogynist message sends to all men and boys ensures that males who choose to commit rape and forms of male violence against women will continue to be viewed as 'normal male behaviour.'

Ignoring this photo ensures coercive male behaviour committed against women and girls will continue with very few individuals challenging such male behaviour.

Women and girls have the right - yes the right not to be subjected to violent, abusive men sexually attacking them. Would anyone ignore say a photo which showed two women engaged in simulating a sexual assault against a cardboard cutout of a male? I very much doubt it but when it comes to women's and girls' rights not to reduced to men's sexual fodder then suddenly men and women appear to experience tunnel vision.

Coercive male behaviour and males engaging in rape and sexual violence against women and girls is centuries old but this does not mean such male behaviour is 'natural and normal' because it is not. It is socially learned behaviour and as such can be unlearned or changed. If Obama ignores this deliberate and calculated insult to all women and girls then he is not worthy to be President of the US.

Male violence against women and girls affects their right to live lives free from violence and male coercion - if men and boys were subjected to the routine sexualised insults and rapes that women and girls are there would be an outcry but because it is women and girls it apparently can be ignored. But not everyone is 'buying such misogyny.'


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