Hasidic newspaper erases the women from that iconic Situation Room photo

You know that instantly famous photo of President Obama and his advisers being briefed on bin Laden’s assassination in the Situation Room? Of course you do. Well, the Brooklyn-based Hasidic newspaper, Der Zeitung, decided to make some, um, alterations to it. Can you spot the difference? Remember the original? Here’s the altered one (via Failed Messiah):

Situation Room photo without the women in Der Zeitung newspaper

Ummmm, where my ladies at? Apparently, Der Zeitung never shows women on its pages because they could be considered “sexually suggestive.” OK, sure, we all know Clinton’s pantsuits are notoriously sexy. But aren’t the editors concerned about all the ladies who get hot and bothered looking at Biden sitting there being all vice-presidential? Jokes aside, Der Zeitung is free to refuse to publish pictures of women. That’s what we like to call really, really sexist, but also fair enough. However, I am pretty sure they are not allowed to erase women from a photograph and pretend they just weren’t there. That’s straight-up rewriting history. And, in addition to seeming just plain wrong to most people, happens to violate both Jewish principles and the terms of use posted by the White House, which stipulate that the image “may not be manipulated in any way.”

Of course, the presence of the women in the original image has sparked some pretty ridiculous debate too. Specifically around Clinton’s expression. So “overcome by emotion” with her hand covering her mouth like that! Um, maybe? But would that gesture seem uniquely emotional if she weren’t one of the only women in the room? I don’t know. But I have a hunch that there wouldn’t be so many articles written analyzing that gesture if it were Biden who was making it. Meanwhile, Clinton herself says she might have just been preventing a cough and the image “may have no great meaning whatsoever.” Are the allergies really to blame or is she just trying to avoid being seen as the “emotional woman” in the room? Again, I do not know. But if it’s the latter, that seems to be a pretty well-grounded concern–and I’m not about to criticize her for it.

Because this is always what happens when you are (one of) the only women in the room (literally in this case!) Your every action, word, expression is subject to gendered scrutiny–and a worried gesture, or a simple cough, can be used to support whatever narrative about women in power others want to write. Clinton’s expression in a photo like this will nearly inevitably be seized upon by some as evidence of the Emotional Female (which, depending on your perspective, is either a flaw or a strength). Unless, of course, the expression were ever-so-slightly different and then it would be evidence of the Cold-Hearted Bitch.

There’s no way to avoid it because the whole stupid, tired discussion has less to do with the expression itself and more to do with the gender of the person wearing it–and it says nothing about anything except how uncomfortable we still are seeing women in positions of power.

Which is why you kinda have to love the blatantly sexist approach Der Zeitung took. While some folks struggled to wrap their heads around the reality that women were in that room, they made it simple and just pretended they weren’t. Problem solved.

Update: Der Zeitung has released a statement apologizing for violating the terms of use of the photo: “We should not have published the altered picture, and we have conveyed our regrets and apologies to the White House and to the State Department.” You can read the full statement here.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation