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Obama's a Woman? Bill Clinton's Black? Why Can't We Be Ourselves?

3 years ago
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Spit out your coffee at breakfast much? The headline on Kathleen Parker's Washington Post column on Wednesday is at least worth a double take: "Obama: Our first female president."
She judges the president's communication style as passive, conciliatory -- displaying "tropes of femaleness" -- not at all what Americans want in a commander-in-chief.
Agree or not, I usually appreciate the Pulitzer winner's particular take on things. She is an individual. So it surprised me how much she reverts to conventional thinking on gender and race roles in her essay.
Americans prefer assertive, tough, manly men, she asserts, sort of like George Bush on the deck of a ship, in flight suit, with a "Mission Accomplished" sign as a backdrop. Back in 2003, Parker called Bush "a stud muffin no matter what his other flaws, arriving on a testosterone bullet."
And we know how that turned out.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and his buddies certainly let the guy chat flow in a Rolling Stone profile. It was all there save the towel-snapping.
And we know how that turned out.
I bristle at stereotypes, even when proffered by someone I admire. An honor of my life was introducing Toni Morrison at a book festival. But why oh why did she ever say, even as a casual aside, that Bill Clinton was our first black president? (He wasn't, by the way.) The characteristics she offered -- "single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas" -- would mean a lot of black people I know, me included, have been living a lie (except, in my case, for the growing up working-class part). I grit my teeth while Parker references Morrison, of course, to make her own point.
In the same way, the model of woman as the nurturing consensus-builder, as opposed to the take-charge, orders-barking Alpha male, is a straitjacket, limiting to women and men. It was already a joke when Bruce Feirstein's silly and self-aware "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" became a best-seller in 1982.
It's also insulting, though Parker insists that her premise is merely descriptive, made "in the nicest possible way." So, if a woman prefers changing a tire to baking a pie, she's a guy, and she better get used to it.
I wonder where the first lady lands in Parker's equation. Possibly in the middle of another stereotype; black women are strong, haven't you heard, and we crush our poor men in our smothering maternal embrace. (If you met my husband, you'd know what a joke that is.)
Parker doesn't think that the president's reaction to the BP oil spill was commanding enough. Then say that. Criticizing the president for policy or demeanor or anything else is fine. But emasculating him based on worn-out stereotypes is depressing. If he isn't the angry black man he must be a gentle white woman. We are all prisoners of what others have decided we must be. Might as well give our little boys trucks and our little girls dolls and forget about it.
Maybe we haven't come that far since Adam and Eve and are doomed to be categorized whether we like it or not. "Our enlightened human selves may want to eliminate gender norms, but our lizard brains have a different agenda," Parker writes. Ask Elena Kagan, who had to endure ridiculous speculation that had little to do with the law.
Despite the occasional setback, though, I somehow think we're better than that.

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23 Comments

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ShirleySunshine1

She is intitled to her opinion. I think it a rather refreshing look at the president in a different light. I for one do not see myself as a smothering mother, assertive, I can change a tire and bake a pie and when money was tight did not do fast food used my money wisely for nutritional food.I think others do also. I went to classes with a few black women and they where assertive and got the impression there moms where tough.

July 01 2010 at 12:32 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Kat2988

A woman? LOL, more like an eight year old little girl in my opinion, oh and I don't care if he's black either, so am I that's got nothing to do with it, the whining and carrying on has gotten out of control.

July 01 2010 at 11:57 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
ajpic

I really do not care if the President is black,white,hispanic male or female, union or non union. We are lucky to live in this country weather your black or white and stop crying about race get a life and go to work. Stop analizing people it is a waste of time and energy. We need jobs, not sweet smoothe talking politicans who only care about their political careers and the polls.

I agree that Govenment needs to play a role but really people need jobs. I do not agree that the current Administration is doing a good in this area. I do not agree that they are on the side of small business where the jobs really get created and I am afraid this country is headed deep into financial trouble because of all their spending. It is all about big money bailing out big money. Follow the big money America both parites do. So do not give me this that Democrats are for the small people and do not favor big money companies. Get your head out of the sand. Lets vote for people to get this country back to work, not to play silly polictical games about who to blame it is a waste of time.

July 01 2010 at 11:31 AM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
brhurdle

It appears to me that the article misses the point in relating behavior/competence to gender and race sterotypes. The real issue is the relationship of competence to academia. I believe there is ample evidence to show that academics who have been sheltered/isolated from the realities of life in a competitive environment are incapable of managing situations that aren't controlled artificially. Harvard is one of the worst offenders since it produces people with an overwhelming sense of superiority and disdain for the "simple" folk. The fact that someone has to deal with the refuse and feces of life never enters their minds.

July 01 2010 at 11:08 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
PJ

Obama is a woman becausew he dosent panic and rush to judgement? Because he dosent put on combat gear and fly in the face of innocent iraquis and kill their innocent?. Because he doesnt send more troops to get killed,, oops, i mean avange us?
And, Bill clinton is black?? what is avting black?, because Bill has a mr cool demeanor??
I am a white male and this article makes me sick. It is so called journalist like the creatator or this garbage who spreads hate and racism thorugh rhetorics like these by isolating random actions of a person and LABEL them. Buch DID put on flight gear and land on a warship, does that make him manly?? Sending 3000 people to die for WMD's STILL havent found,, is THAT manly?? Bush had a "C" average in college, Obama has a PHD, i cant even compare the two. If Obama was BLUE, hes had been a MUCH better leader than Bush. Read a book,, watch the news,, dont go spreading your hate becvause of ignorance and arrogance.

July 01 2010 at 11:03 AM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
mygapeach24

i think she wrong about this all. Obama isn't like a woman. need to say more this country right now need somebody too be passionate. look at what George Bush did to us. and as far as bill Clinton goes, you couldn't compare him to us blacks, yeah don't get me wrong we (as blacks loved Bill Clinton) but poor, single-parent, fast-food and junk food loving makes him black. that mess up but hay you're entitle to your opinion

July 01 2010 at 10:58 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
jfsny14626

When you elect people with no scruples this is what you get.when you elect people who don't practice
good attributes this is what you get..and when you elect a person to run the most powerful richest country in the world and has no qualifications or experience this is what you wind up with .these people are destroying the united states the only people to blame is your selves . look into the mirror. Mr obama was elected because he was black it was all about race.if one didn't vote for Mr obama then one would be a racist .
we need to get back to basics it all starts in the home with a man and a women( mother and father) to teach there children right and wrong. we need to get back to basics in the schools we don't need to teach are children how to have sex and how to use a condom's .we need to get company's back here in the united states.we need to create jobs in the private sector not in government like we have now.
MR STONE

July 01 2010 at 10:46 AM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jfsny14626's comment
irvsmith44

I wonder how many (white presidents) were elected just because they were white. In case you don't know, African Americans make up only about 10% of the voting population, and you probably are not aware that a lot of white people had to vote for Obama in order for him to get elected. Now obviously you were not one of them, so did you not vote for him just because he was black.

July 01 2010 at 12:33 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
ettu

Sterotyping abounds, especially when one group takes the mistakes of one, and applies it to an entire group. You do it Mary, I do it, and just about everyone does it, so why does it surprise you when it happens?

July 01 2010 at 9:53 AM Report abuse +9 rate up rate down Reply
InTheBlack

The writer was stating the most often recognized behavior of certain genders or categories, not the behavior of the entire gender or category. Therefore the writer who said Obama acts like the majority of women behave is in my opinion correct. And I would agree with the assessment of Bill Clinton as well. In fact I would add Bill Clinton acts both Black and female. And I would add Obama acts White and female. And this is not meant to be an insult, only an observation. Both of these men have cultivated these respective styles over many years and mission accomplished. I wish Obama would support shared parenting legislation but his female proclivity will direct him away from it. I am a black man who voted for the lesser of two evils Obama as opposed to Palin. Obama is a smart man but his female side blinds him to inequalities in the child support system against men. I can say the same for Clinton.

July 01 2010 at 9:28 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
JOHN

Wow, what else can you say? In my opinion as a black American, I can surely relate to the writers article and description, especially about Clinton, for he poses that rare quality to embrace the black public and they related to his aura, as for Mr. Obama, I would not go as far in relating him to being more woman than man, but I can see his passive side in reasoning and avoiding offending a society that is moving ever so close to more personal hatred, than reasoning. I basically fear that our president is in sighting some lunatic to the brink of attempting an assassination if our president were to move more forcibly in selective actions which might be taken for siding with the demands of the lessor people in our society. He is balancing America's right and left very gingerly, as he is no fool. Surprisingly, the black voices of America are neither condemning him, nor are they praising for fear of a backlash from mainstream white America. There has been a eerily racial peace between Blacks and Whites as the racial hatred for the time being has pointed to the Latino community, which as a human being myself, is totally unjustified, but that is only my opinion....

June 30 2010 at 11:28 PM Report abuse -20 rate up rate down Reply

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