Henpecked White House?

Barack Obama was “henpecked” into our involvement in the current Libyan conflict by three scheming women.

That’s the meme started by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and continued by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews and others about reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and presidential adviser Samantha Power were a nagging triumvirate of estrogen that forced President Obama into sending U.S. troops to Libya in a humanitarian effort to prevent power-hungry dictator Muammar Qadafi from killing his own people.  Inside the beltway publication Politico kept the whole 1950s vibe alive by asking, “Boys against girls over Libya?” Even the Christian Science Monitor got in on the gender wars action as it tried to dissect the Libya decision.

There are many things to lament about the state of journalism — or should I say “journalism” in big air quotes — today, but reporters who perpetuate the idea that women can only convince men of their positions by harassing or cajoling them would probably have even Ward Cleaver shaking his head.  At this rate, it’s only a matter of time until we see a story suggesting that maybe Hillary batted her eyelashes at President Obama to get her way in Afghanistan or that Valerie Jarrett’s skirts are getting a little shorter in hopes of speeding things up on the Paycheck Fairness issue (Shhhhh.  Don’t tell Michelle).

If three high level men had been the ones who convinced the President that we couldn’t stand by and watch another slaughter of innocent people a la Rwanda, the critique would be about the actual facts behind the decision making process, rather than whether “the ladies” had just pulled something out of the old housewives’ bag of tricks.

Sadly, the fact that journos and commentators are even suggesting that three high-level, educated, accomplished and savvy women in the administration could only have gotten their way by henpecking, nagging, and harassing the President and the other boys in the room, rather than having convinced them that they had a legitimate, cogent, persuasive argument as to why the United States should have a role in a humanitarian effort to prevent a blood-bath, is just another reminder that no matter how far we’ve come, it’s just not far enough.

I know it’s the job of people like Dowd, Matthews, and others to say things that will get people all riled up, but I just have to say (again) that crossing the line into stereotypical woman-bashing doesn’t help anyone, other than advertisers who support those news outlets, because something sensational will always get more eyeballs on those all-important ads.

If we’re really going down this road, I’m going to have to call in Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble.  As long as we’re in the world of caveman thinking, I know they’ve got a good track record of  straightening out the boys.

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7 Responses to “Henpecked White House?”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Thank you for this, Joanne. You’ve elegantly articulated what many of us have been thinking and feeling about the headlines of the past few days.

  2. Lisse Says:

    Bleh. I just hate this. Shame on Maureen Dowd. She managed to simultaneously diminish the president and trash/dehumanize (what’s the opposite of anthropomorphosis?) his female advisors in one fell swoop. It’s brilliant, but it is something I would expect of a clear right-winger.

    Yes, the gender gap, as CSMonitor puts it, didn’t work the way we’ve been set up to expect (women as kinder, gentler nonsense), but I think it’s great that they stood up for the Libyan people and for the implications on US foreign policy.

  3. Sheri Says:

    Shame on all the mudslingers as they vie for attention with attempts the tear down the President, no matter what the issue is! Disgusted how they have completely lost sight of human lives at stake vs political glory to get their name in the headlines. Maureen Dowd’s exploitation of the genocide in Libya is a new all time lowwwww!

  4. Jill Says:

    GREAT column, Joanne. Could not agree more. Thank you for writing it.

  5. Kelley Bell Says:

    Indeed. At a time when many Americans think women have achieved equality, this demonstrates just how far we still have to go.

    The pundits would never dream of making comments that Obama was swayed by members of the black community just because they are “brotha’s”, yet they think nothing of using gender stereotypes to marginalized the opinion of women.

    The sad thing is, when our society condones this as normal, it effects every woman in every endeavor she engages in, and makes it harder for all of us to succeed.

  6. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    The positive side of this sexist story is that there are at least THREE powerful women close to the presidency.

  7. heather Says:

    Check out Salon’s commmentary: “http://mobile.salon.com/politics/war_room/2011/03/21/libya_corner_women/index.html”

    Those words “henpecked” and “nagging” are extremely charged with ideas about gender roles. Most of the commentors look right over the offensive nature of the gender-based attack, and go on quibbling about Libyan policy. It’s key that the main gist of the sniping here is not that their stance is flawed, or they are too aggressive. The very bullets being used are apparently seen as a non-issue.

    It is unbelievable to me that a perceived dig at the president is that he may occasionally be listening to his imminently qualified staffers who happen to be women.

    This is why women’s rights have not reached parity. You don’t have to reach, the blatant inference is that women should leave this stuff to the men. People need to stick to policy and strategy, not feed a frenzy of stupid.


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