“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake,” said Obama. “She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here. (Applause.) It’s true. Come on. (Laughter.) And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years.” [Los Angeles Times]
IT’S A Maxim mind set. That every woman in every instant should be reduced in the end to how sexy and gorgeous she is. …or isn’t. If Obama was a Republican he would have been rhetorically torn to shreds.
Underlying the comment from President Obama is the unutterable. That women who don’t have the looks are often held back or not hired because of it. I’m not just talking about Hollywood. Let’s not pretend this isn’t true.
I’ve been delving into the politics of sex, which exists well outside Democratic and Republican politics, for twenty years. The rule is really simple. Kamala Harris should use all her advantages, including her looks through dressing the best she can, wearing make-up and having a great stylist, but when being referred to in a professional setting no male addressing her qualifications for her job should utter one single word about her being “by far the best-looking attorney general in the country,” which doesn’t mean squat in the work she does. The president of the United States certainly shouldn’t do it.
This comment from President Obama is even more insulting coming in the middle of a nationwide public discussion on how we refer to girls, which leads to a leadership vacuum, because from an early age girls are reduced to being pretty over smart. Someone needs to send him a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In immediately, because it’s obvious he’s in a bubble so tight he actually missed what the entire female population is talking about right now.
It’s not enough that Ms. Harris has been lauded by her colleagues for being competent and tough. One of the things she’s had to contend with is her adversaries charging she slept her way to the top, because she’s the ex-girlfriend of former Mayor Willie Brown. In 2003, she came to her own offense.
“I refuse,” she says vehemently, “to design my campaign around criticizing Willie Brown for the sake of appearing to be independent when I have no doubt that I am independent of him — and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me. “His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years. I do not owe him a thing.”
President Obama remains a member of the oldest club in the world. The men’s club that thinks a woman is more valuable because she’s good looking, regardless of her qualifications. As long as people as powerful as the president weigh in on looks it will stay that way for women.
American culture is in the vice grip of the Maxim mindset, which is fine in a social setting when a woman clearly has gone all the way out to look gorgeous. But in any business or professional setting the Maxim mindset has no place.
UPDATE 2: Gawker’s “Mansplainer” for those men who still don’t get it.
UPDATE: The furor forced an apology from President Obama.
“The president did speak with Attorney General Harris last night, after he came back from his trip, and he called her to apologize for the distraction created by his comments,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. Carney added that Obama and Harris were “old friends and good friends,” and the president “did not in any way want to diminish” her professional accomplishments. “He fully recognizes the challenge women continue to face in the workplace and that they should not be judged based on appearance.,” Carney continued. [The Hill]