Does Obama Have a 'Woman' Problem?

Monday, 26 Sep 2011 12:11 PM

By Kathleen Parker

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As a rule, I'm not one to occupy a bench in the whiny women's section. In fact, I've built a career around this disinclination.

Having been raised by a man and subsequently lived only with males, including three sons, it never occurred to me that being a woman was an obstacle to anything. This is mostly because my father was such a vocal, bear-hugging cheerleader for his daughter. Otherwise, I've gotten along just fine in my testosterone-rich environment, mostly by being one of the guys. I was what they call a "guy-girl." Anything they could do . . . and no whining.

Thus when Barack Obama wanted to play basketball with a group of guy friends and some of the White House women complained, I wrote in support of the president. Let the guys play a little ball, I said. Relaxing with friends is not a policy statement.

And when I recently read Ron Suskind's book "Confidence Men," in which he catalogs the complaints of several women in the Obama administration who said they felt marginalized, even describing the White House as a hostile workplace, my immediate reaction was, "Oh, puh-leeze."

And then I thought again.

This would be a good time to grab a calendar and a permanent marker: I was wrong.

It was pretty easy for me to get along with men and not feel marginalized because for 20 years or so, I worked alone from home. I recommend this arrangement if you can swing it, but should you have to traffic with human beings in a confined space for several hours a day — and you happen to be a woman in a male-dominated environment — you face challenges that aren't well understood.

It isn't necessarily that men intentionally marginalize women, or even that they disrespect them. It is that they are . . . men. It's nature.

Put the most brilliant woman at a table with five men (even far less intelligent men) and the woman will be ignored. She is invisible. She can't be heard by male ears. It isn't her fault; it isn't even the men's fault except that they are blissfully clueless. Women need to unbliss them.

How? Certainly not by raising their voices, heaven forbid. "She's shrill!" they'll say. Certainly not by interrupting. "Pushy!"

Here's how. By being three women in a room with three men. Or, just for kicks, five women in a room with one male. See how quiet he gets.

I marvel at Mika Brzezinski's superb poise when each morning she is seated at a table roiling with testosterone — and not just "regular." We're talking premium testosterone with Joe Scarborough, Mike Barnicle, and others. These are guys' guys and the "Morning Joe" studio is a glorified locker room. Mika has been criticized for not speaking up enough. Really? How would she do that, slap the guys?

Instead, she wrote a book, "Knowing Your Value," in which she questioned why Scarborough earned 14 times more than she did. Scarborough is charming and talkative, but he's a politician. Mika is an accomplished broadcast journalist. Go figure.

Deference toward the lady of the house is the new rule on "Morning Joe." But the show could still use a lot more women.

Most of the complaints aimed at Obama's house concerned Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel. Both are now gone. And Obama has made efforts to create a more woman-friendly environment. He knows how to listen to women, which probably explains his popularity with the gentler sex, but he's still a guy and can't be faulted for being more comfortable in his downtime hanging with his male pals. Women like some girlfriend time, too.

But to the larger point of women feeling less engaged and appreciated at the elevated levels they've earned, there is a clear solution, as hinted above. More women. More women. More women. There are plenty to fill an equal number of slots — no more scrounging to find qualified candidates.

And the best part: Women no longer have to try to be like men. They can be women, which is, one humbly submits, even better.

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.






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