October 26, 2009

Fanning the flames of a faux flap

Filed under: Wendy Parker — wendyp @ 12:22 pm

I thought this was a bogus story when I first heard about it, and can’t believe The New York Times made such a big deal about it over the weekend: President Obama’s all-guys hoops games, and what that might say about the true influence and “place” for women in his administration:

“Women are Obama’s base, and they don’t seem to have enough people who look like the base inside of their own inner circle,” said Dee Dee Myers, a former press secretary in the Clinton administration whose sister, Betsy, served as the Obama campaign’s chief operating officer.

Ms. Myers said women have high expectations of the president. “Obama has a personal style that appeals to women,” she said. “He is seen as a consensus builder; he is not a towel snapper and does not tell crude jokes.”

But wait, the hectoring gets sillier still, from NOW president Terry O’Neill. Then again, Obama was remiss in filling out an NCAA women’s basketball tournament bracket last season. What a Neanderthal!

So if he ditched Reggie Love and put Alana Beard on the White House halfcourt, would this make the Sisterhood happy? I doubt it.

At least Obama is playing golf with a woman! Oh joy! Nip that Martha Burk problem in the bud before it sprouts.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in the realm of high political circles, but I do cover sports for a living, and have devoted much of my work to covering women’s sports. Dee Dee, you don’t know towel-snapping like I do! If only I could give you a post-game tour of football locker rooms.

I know what it’s like to operate in a mostly male environment, and to push for more media coverage of women athletes who aren’t in the so-called “Bambi” sports (tennis, gymnastics, figure skating, etc.). If you’re not dubbed an “advocate” for a sport instead of a supposedly “objective” reporter, then you’re called far worse than that. So, why are you really interested in women’s sports? Heh, heh.

But I find this whining from very privileged women — the products of elite educations and powerful political, corporate and social connections I have never enjoyed — absolutely bamboozling. Former Wall Street Journal deputy managing editor Joane Lipman, also writing in the NYT over the weekend, sounds as though we’re still in the 1970s.

Perhaps this is the mid-life crisis issue for women of my generation. I understand their frustration, but I don’t appreciate the implication that their experiences speak for all of us.

Neither do I have a problem with guys wanting to be with the guys. Even males I know who are deeply involved in women’s sports do this. If guys desire the release best provided by drinking buddies, cigar companions and steamroom pals, so what? It’s a deeply human, and not just male, urge. Women have their outlets too, and not just at shopping malls.

This complaining resonates of the gender wars in women’s college sports dating back to the early 1990s. It was a contentious and unhappy time, especially in women’s basketball, where the push to hire women above all for top coaching jobs rankled some men who had devoted their careers to the sport. I won’t recount all of that here, except to make this point:

The young women who are coaching now, and who are playing the game, will go through their own frustrations and obstacles, especially if they remain in a largely male endeavor. Some of it will come about because there is blatant sex discrimination that will always continue to exist.

But some of the shortcomings can’t be struck up to gender issues. They’re the products of family matters, unrealized career ambitions and unexpected developments that occur to men and women in the course of daily life. Learning to make the distinction could be the key to avoiding the kind of sour mid-life mood that some Baby Boomer women, the first true inheritors of the feminist legacy, are starting to feel.

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