Obama…a woman? Kathleen Parker’s tired, sexist drivel about women’s leadership

Perhaps Kathleen Parker’s recent blog post where she calls Obama the first woman President is the stuff your mother always told you to never dignify with a response. But given that the writer is a Pulitzer prize winner who has also recently been selected to fill Larry King’s shoes on CNN, I think readers should give her recent WaPo piece a double-take.
Beyond the fact that she takes a dash at the President’s gender and reproductive functioning by interchanging gender and sex in the headline and subsequent lead paragraph, her arguments yield some pretty problematic conclusions about what it means to be a woman. While Parker makes sure to state that doing things a woman’s way isn’t “evidence of a deficiency” but an “evolutionary achievement,” Obama’s gender are in question because of his response to the BP oil spill. Parker disapproves of his response, calling it delayed, passive and that it lacked leadership. But nowhere in her analysis of the BP oil spill does she speak to how this alleged feminine communication style has been an asset. In this way, her analysis is more of a slight against women in leadership than it is of the President. And it begs the question, when is being called a woman going to be an affirmation instead of an offense against one’s competence?
Interestingly enough, her criticism of the President is inspired by a highly dated argument about Bill Clinton’s blackness that was made in jest by Toni Morrison. But it’s important to remember that Morrison used blackness as an affirmation and to signal to Black folks that Clinton could be trusted as one of them. One thing Parker doesn’t mention in her talk of race to prove her sex/gender theories is that the onslaught of criticism the President is experiencing is also possibly tied to the President’s race — a fact she neglects to mention in its entirety.
In closing, Mary Curtis’s response to Parker sums up exactly how Parker has totally missed the mark:

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.

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  • Rubbersoul4163

    Even though I saw this drivel the day it was first published, it took me until today to finally read what Parker had to say because I knew that it would irritate me. I am glad so many in the blogosphere shut Parker down immediately, highlighting her argument’s lack of good racial or gendered analysis.
    What possibly irked me more than the piece itself, however, was her response piece on Sunday, where she quickly pointed out that despite whatever connections she failed to make, people in general are “too sensitive.” “Too sensitive” being the standard cliche trotted out every time a privileged person believes that people are overly analytical and get offended by every little piece of commentary.
    The too sensitive trope is frustrating for so many reasons, as I’m sure you all know. What is especially irritating however, is that people like Parker think they can say whatever they want, no matter how weak the argument, and then quickly deflect legitimate criticism by saying people are “too sensitive.” I am not a sensitive person; I do, however, expect Pulitzer Prize winners who are about to start working for CNN to be able to write a thesis statement that does not rely on tired gender tropes and tenuous (or no) facts.
    In case you’re wondering, Kathleen Parker…It is not me, it really is you.

  • uberhausfrau

    when has it become “manly” to rant, rave and throw out a lot of idle threats over something you really dont have that much control over? in my house it’s called a temper tantrum and it NEVER changes a damned thing.
    it’s only after a, often very hard to come by, calm reflective time and discussion that we are free to find solutions.

  • karen

    Great post Rose! And excellent comments!
    Of all the criticisms of the President, the most ridiculous is the complaint that he is not going ballistic about the BP oil spill catastrophe.
    See my post about this “My evolving feelings about the 4th of July” at