Now that's kind of funny for a column title. For decades, women have complained that men are not communal enough, sensitive enough, gentle enough . . . . And after having a renegade, go-it-alone, cowboy in the White House for the last 8 years before Obama, America seemed to want a president who was not reactive and unilateral in his communication, decisions, and actions.
But Kathleen Parker seems to think that is bad thing. In her recent Washington Post column she suggests that Obama is too womanish (or more precisely, suffering from "rhetorical-testosterone deficit") - just as many traditionalists thought that Hillary Clinton was too mannish in her campaign (which resulted in her little crying jag about how tough it is to be a professional woman, which is true enough).
It's worth noting that Parker is the author of Save the Males - a book in which she argues against many of the goals of radical (and not so radical) feminism and their impact on men in terms of health and on boys in their education. Some of what she says is spot on, some not so much. But her overall view is a conservative traditionalist view - men with emotions and who are not hair-trigger in their decisions seem to be too much for her.
She says this, which I liked:
Obama displays many tropes of femaleness. I say this in the nicest possible way. I don't think that doing things a woman's way is evidence of deficiency but, rather, suggests an evolutionary achievement.OK, so what's the problem? It seems the problem is that he does this and it violates cultural norms of masculinity. She immediately follows the above quote with this passage:
Nevertheless, we still do have certain cultural expectations, especially related to leadership. When we ask questions about a politician's beliefs, family or hobbies, we're looking for familiarity, what we can cite as "normal" and therefore reassuring.My sense is that when Obama fails to lead, which is more of what happened around the BP disaster, that is when he fails as a president. But it won't be because he has a more feminine (gender role, not sex role) way of communicating and problem solving. On the other hand, he had given several press conferences in the days following the explosion and spill, so it wasn't as though he did nothing.
More to point, in my view, the problem with the BP issue is that we NEED them to fix it - they and the other companies have the technology to do so, not the federal government. AND, BP is taking directions from the government, in terms of what they can and cannot do, so Obama has not just ignored the situation.
But that's politics, not gender studies.
I think Parker is correct that Obama (and maybe Clinton before him) has a more traditionally feminine communication pattern - but I disagree with her assessment that this is a personal failure in his leadership. She simply does not like him and does not (it seems) feel comfortable seeing a man behave in non-traditional ways.
Here's the beginning of the article:
Read the whole article.
If Bill Clinton was our first black president, as Toni Morrison once proclaimed, then Barack Obama may be our first woman president.
Phew. That was fun. Now, if you'll just keep those hatchets holstered and hear me out.
No, I'm not calling Obama a girlie president. But . . . he may be suffering a rhetorical-testosterone deficit when it comes to dealing with crises, with which he has been richly endowed.
It isn't that he isn't "cowboy" enough, as others have suggested. Aren't we done with that? It is that his approach is feminine in a normative sense. That is, we perceive and appraise him according to cultural expectations, and he's not exactly causing anxiety in Alpha-maledom.
We've come a long way gender-wise. Not so long ago, women would be censured for speaking or writing in public. But cultural expectations are stickier and sludgier than oil. Our enlightened human selves may want to eliminate gender norms, but our lizard brains have a different agenda.
Women, inarguably, still are punished for failing to adhere to gender norms by acting "too masculine" or "not feminine enough." In her fascinating study about "Hating Hillary," Karlyn Kohrs Campbell details the ways our former first lady was chastised for the sin of talking like a lawyer and, by extension, "like a man."
Could it be that Obama is suffering from the inverse?
When Morrison wrote in the New Yorker about Bill Clinton's "blackness," she cited the characteristics he shared with the African American community:
"Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."
If we accept that premise, even if unseriously proffered, then we could say that Obama displays many tropes of femaleness. I say this in the nicest possible way. I don't think that doing things a woman's way is evidence of deficiency but, rather, suggests an evolutionary achievement.
Nevertheless, we still do have certain cultural expectations, especially related to leadership. When we ask questions about a politician's beliefs, family or hobbies, we're looking for familiarity, what we can cite as "normal" and therefore reassuring.
Generally speaking, men and women communicate differently. Women tend to be coalition builders rather than mavericks (with the occasional rogue exception). While men seek ways to measure themselves against others, for reasons requiring no elaboration, women form circles and talk it out.
Obama is a chatterbox who makes Alan Alda look like Genghis Khan.