» This Story:Read +| Comments
» This Story:Read +| Comments
Archive   |   Biography   |   RSS Feed   |   Opinions Home

Obama: Our first female president

President Barack Obama marks his first year in the White House this week. The good feelings that surrounded him in the months after Inauguration Day a year ago have faded. Since January 2009, Obama has signed an economic stimulus bill, pushed Congress to pass health-care reform, traveled overseas and upheld traditions like the White House Easter Egg roll and a State Dinner.

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Kathleen Parker
Wednesday, June 30, 2010

If Bill Clinton was our first black president, as Toni Morrison once proclaimed, then Barack Obama may be our first woman president.

This Story
This Story

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.


CONTINUED     1        >

» This Story:Read +| Comments
» This Story:Read +| Comments

More Washington Post Opinions

PostPartisan

Post Partisan

Quick takes from The Post's opinion writers.

Washington Sketch

Washington Sketch

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the capital.

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

See his latest editorial cartoon.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity