Friday, April 5, 2013

Pretty hypersensitive

LET'S START with a show of hands: How many think Barack Obama is a sexist boor? Don't be shy. Hmm. Just as I suspected: I'm not seeing any hands out there. And yet Obama is being slammed (by a vocal minority) for complimenting the physical beauty of California attorney general Kamala Harris -- in good humor, mind you. But judging by the Serious Writer harrumphs out there, you'd think the president was caught waving $20 bills at Harris for a lap dance. The LA Times' Robin Abcarian wrote that Obama was "more wolfish than sexist" and "may be a little problem he needs to work on." Salon's Joan Walsh wrote that "my stomach turned" over the comment. Um, right. Molehill meet mountain. Yes, technically, though it's a stretch, Obama's ad-libbed comment -- "... and [Harris] is by far, the best looking attorney general" -- could be construed as "benevolent sexism" in the way that the phrase "he is a credit to his race" is a belittling form of racism. Yes, telling a female colleague at the office that she looks "cute" is generally improper, as Slate's Amanda Marcotte rightly notes. And yes, the male propensity for objectifying women is a problem. But to lay this all at Obama's feet -- as if our societal plate tectonics are governed by his every utterance -- is patently absurd. Everything (thank god) is not political. Sometimes, a compliment is simply a compliment.

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