Obama's Boys' Basketball Game

What Women Really Think
Oct. 26 2009 2:52 PM

Obama's Boys' Basketball Game

/blogs/xx_factor/2009/10/26/should_obamas_basketball_game_include_women/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Did anyone else read the story about Obama's all-male basketball game against Joanne Lipman's op-ed about how far women have (not) come? And then feel torn about how much to care that the president "presides over a White House rife with fist-bumping young men who call each other 'dude' and testosterone-brimming personalities," as Mark Leibovich vividly put it in the NYT ?

Advertisement

Lipman's most interesting point is that women have measured their progress in numeric gains rather than by a shift in attitudes. Too much bean counting, not enough concern about Google searches of famous women that lead to lots of entries about her breasts. Or about how women are otherwise physically caricatured.

The questions about Obama's hoops game are about both bean counting and attitude. To worry about the numbers of women in his White House, you have to narrowcast. We're not talking about the number of women in his administration or in leadership roles, but the number in a particular inner circle of hoops players and, until domestic policy advisor Melody Barnes busted in on Sunday, golf players too. These are particular slices of access, and so part of me understands why Obama was so quick to dismiss concerns about a boys' club as "bunk," and to say, "I don’t think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever."

But of course it sends a message. This is where the attitude part of Lipman's construct comes in. The original story in Politico about the all-male basketball game didn't move me, because the flap seemed to be over one small self-contained sphere. But Mark does a really good job of showing how basketball and golf spill over. This is about how Obama's "comfort level with staff members is not always perceived as equal." And that is tricky. On the one hand, you can't tell a boss or anyone else who to be totally at ease with. And maybe one reason he's not as comfortable and intimate with his women staffers is his incredibly strong relationship with Michelle. On the other hand, well, he's the president. And if his feelings about sexual politics in the workplace, however nuanced, mean that women aren't as close to him, they won't be as powerful either.

Photograph of Barack Obama by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images.

Emily Bazelon was a Slate senior editor from 2005 to 2014. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Lifetime Didn’t Find the Steubenville Rape Case Dramatic Enough, So They Added Self-Immolation

Why Hillary Clinton and Other Democrats Are Shrewd to Frame All Issues As “Women’s Issues”

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.