8.17.2011

WHAT'S SEXIST? THE WAY OBAMA TALKS ABOUT THE BUDGET

This is what comes of having to spend all day at the computer (ah, yes, deadlines)--I'm reading too much news! It is getting to me! There's a kerfuffle over whether the Bachmann Newsweek cover is sexist. (It isn't, say I.) But here's where the real sexism is: in recent Obama speeches. The President is using the kind of condescending language--demeaning of Michelle Obama, and of the intelligence of his listeners--that raises my hackles. Here's what the president said in Minnesota:

"In my house, if I said, 'You know, Michelle, honey, we got to cut back, so we're going to have you stop shopping completely. You can't buy shoes; you can't buy dresses; but I'm keeping my golf clubs.' You know, that wouldn't go over so well."

Whoa there. Michelle Obama is a serious person, who held a senior executive position at the University of Chicago Hospitals, where she drew an annual salary of roughly $274,000. She certainly made more than her husband did, ever. The caricature of a housewife who can't stop her frivolous spending grates. So does the image of the husband who is forced to draw the line.

But what really got to me was his speech in the next town:

"Everyone cannot get 100 percent of what they want. Now, for those of you who are married, there is an analogy here. I basically let Michelle have 90 percent of what she wants. But, at a certain point, I have to draw the line and say, 'Give me my little 10 percent.'"

I let her have what she wants? I have to draw the line? 


This stereotypical way of talking about how household budgets are managed is about as sexist as it gets. Given that in more than 50% of married couples, both spouses are working, I doubt Americans of either gender need an economics lesson that includes images of the master indulging an irresponsible, needy wife.

I wish I could say these things have a subtle, pernicious effect. They don't. They have a straightforward, and powerful, effect. I fear that, in his effort to be folksy, which he sure isn't, the President is sending the wrong message.

I'm hoping everyone smartens up for back-to-school season. 

18 comments:

Windlost said...

Amen sister - I could not agree with you more.

But you have to admit, from the very first interview, she plays up the bossy wife and him the henpecked husband. I would say it was her who has always acted like she's the boss and he just takes orders. But no one seemed to notice that I guess as she acts like the one in charge. From the way she presents things, it seems she always does get her 90%. So if he puts the little woman down for a change, it is no different than him putting her down a little. They have both been doing the "I'm in charge" routine...

think about it...you just have to watch their Oprah interview to see who's been (pretending to) wear(ing) the pants.

Terri xo

Dominique said...

Very funny, and astute point! I think you're right!

CK said...

I think it is clear to the Obamas (and people like the Obamas) that they are equal partners in their lives that this is --not exactly irony, but definitely silly humor. I don't for a minute think that President Obama believes that his audience believes that he tells Michelle Obama what to do. It makes it both funny and pointed. I don't have a problem with it; and given what he is facing in the coming year I'm not inclined to take him to task for that kind of thing. For not closing Guantanamo, yes, but that's not something he's likely to make jokes about.

Anonymous said...

I think you're reading too much into his statements. No one could doubt the equality in that relationship.

Doug Hein said...

I totally agree with this post and am glad you wrote about it. It's irritated me, too. Despite what we know or can assume about the Obama's marriage, his public comments are demeaning to women. His faux folksy tone is one more reason (among many) why I'm trusting him less and less as the election gets closer.

Sarah said...

Could not agree more. Have been pissed off all week and couldn't put my finger on why. Thank you for doing just that. Ugh.

Barbara said...

I have to admit those 2 'little' speeches made me scratch my head as well. I'm waiting for Michele's take on it.

I love that you are speaking your mind about politics and the insanity we all deal with daily, Dominique. Keep it up!
b

arthur said...

And let's remember what he said about his beloved grandmother, that "typical white woman."

And why does he drag his daughters into every speech, in sometimes too personal a manner, and then beg us to respect their privacy and tender ages?

casacara said...

He's trying to relate to the supposedly macho attitudes of the common folk, using caricature that belongs to the days of Dagwood and Blondie, and no doubt offending many in the process. All very wrong-headed, even desperate. And then there's Guantanamo, and Afghanistan, and not standing up to the Repugnicans...but, disappointed as we may be, we're not going to have much choice in 2012.

wmeribe said...

During these times, I believe I can forgive Mr. Obama almost anything ... certainly for not considering that perhaps, in his effort to draw a parallel between the social interaction between members of an American family, and the political interaction between members of Congress, he may have "dumbed-down" to make his point: compromise is the bottom line in all relationships.

I do not think that this is a bonafide example of sexism, rather hypersensitivity on the part of observers who are either suffering from exhaustion or bored to tears.
But, having said that, that makes me hypersensitive also ...

Summerwind said...

I'm very happy to see you write about this as I, too, was taken aback when first reading about this in the NY Times. The condescending tone notwithstanding (really, do the voters need to have complicated issues explained to them in terms of simplistic domestic parables?), my final irritation rests with the notion that a 90/10 split is somehow the best that can be expected. If this is the way things stand in the Obama's marriage then so be it; I could not care less about their marital dynamic. What offends and angers me is that a 90/10 split is presented as an acceptable political compromise. Grrrrrr.

Calliope Street said...

Blaming and downgrading Michelle in the ludicrously hypothetical example of the Obama family budget is part of the pattern. Blame the tsunami, blame the Arab uprisings, blame the spendthrift Greeks and Portuguese -- anything but accept some responsibility for the sorry state of our economy and national mood. This is a very desperate man.

Thea said...

Gee, I really like Obama. I live near DC, he sure seems like a very hard working prez to me. I know he hasn't fixed every single freakin thing wrong with this country in less than three years, for goodness sake, but the lack of belief or faith in him by his own constituents is unbelievable!Unless you want Perry or Bachmann in the WH, you have to support and believe in your candidate. He didn't create this pit we're in. If you wonder why we don't get the best and the brightest running for office anymore, listen to the relentless criticism towards the president. Why would anyone in their right minds want to run for any office, even dog catcher!!! I support him because he is my president. I think he has a very good chance of getting reelected. Then I do want a woman president next.

Dona M said...

Thank you reader for saying you could forgive the president for "almost anything" and to you Dominique for pointing out the sensitive issue of gender, sexism and trying to put levity into combining the two in one thought.
These are volatile changing times where what was considered humor before now is being put to test. The problems facing our nation, culture and the world are bigger than any one person can tackle. I believe both Barack and Michelle are together trying to do what they are able to make change but racism is to me the underlying factor. I say thank you for your courage.

Summerwind said...

I like him, too, and often I feel that much of the criticism directed at Obama is pathetic political poison. Having said that, however, I feel that Dominique (also a supporter, I suspect) has hit the nail on the head with this one. As one of his constituents, I feel disappointed and betrayed by Obama's inability to hold to a 50/50 position in the debt ceiling "compromise." Bargaining away over 40% is not acceptable to this voter! I still support him, but I also think it is appropriate to hold his feet to the fire.

Gin said...

Oh well, I just have to say, all this utter nonsense and outrage about supposedly sexists remarks is just a little too much! Good God, give this man a break...he inherited a big freaking mess....digging out is bound to be painful.
I remember very clearly when he took office, in one of his first speeches he stated very clearly...don't expect miracles, we are 20 trillion dollars in debt.
Did he make mistakes...sure he did. Should he have gone a different route...maybe.
As for sexism...you are reading way too much in to very innocent statements. As for the 90/10% who says he talking about finances. I think he probably meant choices.
Oh, and by the way....Michelle is probably bossy...all women tend to be because after all don't we know so much more then our husbands do...I mean really lets face it. Quite frankly I feel sorry for most of the guys (husbands) I know, including my own. So Dominique and everyone else that is pissed off at the poor prez....don't take yourself so seriously!

karenleslie said...

to women, sexist remarks which are meant to be "humorous" or "just kidding" are just not funny. we lag so far behind on so many fronts because of sexism that it's difficult to chuckle at jokes making fun of us. call us "sensitive." look at how little represented we are in congress or heads of corporations. hollywood is run by men who usually reduce woman's roles to sex objects responding to "funny guys" or "smart" men. sit back and listen to the voice of authority -- the narrator - on commercials and you'll hear nary a woman's voice... well, maybe for tampax. it's discouraging so excuse us for being a little sensitive...

prowlerzee said...

This is nothing new from Obama, and it's been grating those of us paying attention for ages. I remember seeing him interrupt Michelle in an interview where she was asked what she'd do as First Lady. He answered for her, saying she was a wife and mother first! Even worse was during a Barbara Walters interview, where he was talking over both Barbara and Michelle, to Michelle's obvious embarrassment. He was putting his foot down and declaring they were not going to adopt a "girly" dog, even tho Michelle meekly reminded him the rest of his family were girls. How anyone could've missed this boys-club golfing attitude all along is a mystery.