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boys will be boys, while their employers will be oblivious

Posted by pocochina on December 11, 2008

It’s not exactly a galloping surprise to the, uh, conscious that the President-Elect and his staff have a bit of a woman problem.  In that, we exist, walking around like we was people and shit.  As of this writing, Favreau has offered a private apology to the Senator, and taken the picture down.  He has not resigned.  He has not publicly acknowledged his behavior. He has not been fired.

But this is beyond excusable.  As is the fact that Favreau still has a job after not just participating in this behavior, not just posing for a picture, but publishing said picture online.  (And isn’t it ironic?)  Look at this picture.  Really look at it.  Laughing boys, standing around a woman who can’t react.  On either side, with their  shoulders behind her, and their hands in front of her – there’s no escape.  Completely surrounded.  One hand in her hair, as if to pull her head back and force the beer bottle in.  One hand cupped to suggest groping.  One head turned toward her, the other in her ear, both of them breathing down her neck.  And laughing.  Does this disturb you?  Because it should.

Reines’ reaction to this – “evidence of increased bonhomie between the formerly rival camps” – is, to my mind, a mastery of the backhand, as a snide re-interpretation of damnation with faint praise.  Of course Clinton can’t come out with guns blazing – Mr. “periodically feeling down” has taken intellectually honest discussion of sexism off the table – but, well, this is pretty emblematic of the President-Elect’s campaign towards his female rivals, and that of his supporters towards hers.  You’re a joke, and a toy.  Trivialization of violence against women? Check.  Reduction of women to our reproductive organs? Check.  Playing sexism for a laugh? Check.  Hey, lighten up, at least nobody was threatening her life! I suppose that is progress.

And yes, this is about Obama.  Haven’t we been hearing for two years now about how he was a CIVIL!  RIGHTS!  ATTORNEY!?  I can only assume he wasn’t a very good one, or he’d have a handle on the concept of a hostile work environment.  The knowledge that one’s co-workers find this behavior funny could well  inhibit a person’s comfort in hir place of work, particularly since at least one those co-workers considered themselves free to engage in it while wearing the company logo.  And you know what, I’d wager that the knowledge that this is tacitly condoned by the most powerful boss in the world will be a pretty effective means of silencing future claims next time a government worker is faced with a hostile work environment.  Oh, it’s change your lyin’ eyes can believe in.  It’s also change I’d hoped I’d never see.

You know who this isn’t about?  Hillary Clinton.  I mean, it’s not just about her, though of course as the target of this scorn she has more than a right to react in whatever way she chooses.  This is about women in the American public square.  Favreau’s continued employoment is further indication that it’s open season on women in public.   Speak out of turn, and you’re a whiny bitch.  Let it go, and you deserve to be groped in effigy.  As I said at Red’s, what kills me is that I know these guys.  Okay, not Favreau and his comrade-in-groping, but young men with the world at their feet who like to hear their own words about justice and change and their own moral superiority, as long as the systemic oppression of others is always around for their easy amusement.  I see them every day.  I look around the lecture hall some days and think about who they’re going to be.  As much as a reminder of what they think of me is never fun, it really is something special from the voice of the President-Elect.

And yes, Campbell.  When you sanctimoniously tut-tut about how HRC isn’t reacting to your refined tastes to this simulated sexual assault, you are blaming the victim.  You are choosing to criticize someone who wasn’t even there over those who actually did this.  You are buying into the sexist expectation that women are the gatekeepers of morality, that everyone to whom something humiliating is done to them should take her lumps just to satisfy you.

Let me be quite clear.  The person responsible for this behavior is Favreau.  The person responsible for this picture’s presence on our news, our websites, burned into our brain is the person who put Favreau in front of all of us as someone deserving of a lofty position in the United States government.  President-Elect Obama has chosen, so far, to fail to even mention Favreau’s behavior, or the widespread pattern of this behavior in our country, or the severe impact this has on women.  I get that policy-wise, he’s better than a Republican, and I get that in the current political climate that’s  a valuable quality.  What I do not get is why that insultingly low bar is satisfactory for the former candidate of Hope (TM) and Change (patent pending).*  All President-Elect Obama needs to do is to behave in the way the EEOC – which, for those keeping track, he will be running in a few weeks – wishes American employers to behave.  So far he has chosen not to do so.

Once is happenstance.  Twice is coincidence.  Three times is Enemy Action.  Logic suggests that dozens, if not hundreds, of times is a deliberately chosen strategy of passive enjoyment of and outright capitalization on the hatred of women.  The bad thing about a strategy is that it’s a conscious choice, and people intend the probable consequences of their actions.  The good thing about a conscious choice is that a better one can be made.

I’ll wait.

*Some restrictions, one observes, apply.

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