Brown on HRC on sexism

We told you about the picture,  but left out what Hillary Clinton said in response.  Here it is:

“Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon’s obvious interest in the State Department,” Philippe Reines, a Clinton spokesman, noted in an email to ‘The Loop, “and is currently reviewing his application.”

Let me tell you what I initially thought.  Then do please look at Campbell Brown’s unhappy reaction linked to below and see what you think.

I thought it was a not bad put down.  “I’m reviewing his application” is an assertion of her power and his comparative lack of it, so it takes the picture for exactly what it was:  about power.

If she had cried “sexism,” what would have  happened?  The evening news would once again be full of insulting references to Clinton’s complaining and  not being able to take a joke!  As it was, they just didn’t get it. 

Or am I just wrong?  See what Campbell Brown thinks.  (You’ll also see the offending photo.)  What do you think?

35 thoughts on “Brown on HRC on sexism

  1. How many articles is Campbell going to write about sexism?! She’s worse that the boy who cried wolf! EVERYTHING that happens that pertains to a female policitican or professional is sexism. This was evident throughout the entire presidental campaign, and is obviously continuing now. People are going to do (and say) what they want to do, and while this was a case of people being totally juvenille, if Hillary wasn’t bothered by it and decided she had more important things to focus on, then why is Campbell so up in arms about it? She’s setting the stage where men will feel like they can’t say anything to women, for fear of it being labeled a sexist. As a professional working woman, I agree there has to be a certain decorum in the political and professional world in the way that men and women interact with one another, but trying to control what people do (or say) outside of that arena is pointless and a waste of time. Surely there are other topics that she can write about and not focus her career solely on being the woman who always screamed ‘sexism’!

  2. I don’t really see it as a “put down”; just one joke in return for another. To say that HRC’s response amounts to “an assertion of her power and his comparative lack of it” strikes me as a rather fanciful explanation.

  3. Rhonda, perhaps the question should be why she seems to be talking about sexism so much. To get the actual usage, I did a lexis-nexis search of cnn’s transcripts for “‘Campbell Brown’ and sexism.” I looked through those back to June 10th. It turns out that in that period – approximately 6 months – Brown has accused someone of sexism 4 times and she’s discussed others’ charges of sexism 2 times. That’s hardly much for someone covering a campaign where there have been two women in highly unusual positions who have attracted a lot of heat.

    (Just for the record, I stopped at six months because it was very boring to do the search, however easy all the modern technology makes it.)

    What did interestingly stand out to me was that a lot of other people have discussed sexism, including Donna Brazile and Larry King. It would be interesting to look at comparable transcripts from other stations.
    Bad Andy, perhaps “power” is wrong and “rank” would be better. I think she’s pretty subtle, and probably seldom says anything like that while intending it simply to be taken at face value. Remember, this message was sent to the press.

    But Mr. jj has drawn my attention to the fact that the expression is like “the check is in the mail,” and really means that any application would be flushed down the toilet. Perhaps.

  4. I think you’re right the first time. When I heard the response I laughed out loud. Was this really an official response from Hillary, or maybe just one of her staffers popping off?

    I think you’re right, the message was there. This kid doesn’t have the judgement for the State Dept — OR for the White House. Obama should fire him….

  5. campbell should learn to lighten up. don’t try and tell me that females haven’t groped male baggage in photos before and put them on facebook. i wouldn’t call the incident “sexist” by any means, just downright stupid.
    Jon Favreau should have known better. He should also consider making some classier friends, now that he is involved in a rather important sector of politics.
    still, i think campbell is taking this too far. the poor guy isn’t sexist. we know that. and WHY is she blaming Hillary now? Hillary can’t do anything about it. Actually, Hillary is being professional about the whole issue. Her time came and went for her to point specific sexist incidents out, but she’s not really in that position any longer, especially when I’m sure she knows the incident was just a joke. She’s not making a big “hoo haw” over the issue, which is her choice. Campbell, don’t tell her how she should react to the picture. Let Hillary decide.

    Oh yeah, and men do actually deal with sexism too. We just don’t call it out as often, because we deal with it. Aren’t we technically known as the “dumber sex, who just want to get in female’s pants?” Yeah. There is sexism against men too, we just don’t call out the tiny things as much.

  6. Jason, I think you are operating with a different concepton of sexism than the one most of here have – and the one Campbell Brown seems to have.

    One way to look at sexism is to see it as have two components: a. The belief that one sex (usually the male) is naturally superior to the other and should dominate most important areas of political, economic, and social life, and b. a set of attitudes, specific beliefs and tendencies to action that express the belief and/or undercut, devalue or degrade women and their opportunities for living full lives.

    One difference that relates to what you said is this: while people will say “Men only want one thing,” this is very seldom given as a reason for denying men positions of power. People also say, “Mothers tend to put their child first,” and this is used to deny women positions of power.

  7. Thanks JJ, but I do understand what sexism is. I just don’t believe there has been any sexism related to this particular incident. Well, maybe that isn’t true. They were technically degrading her, which is definitely a type of sexism, and that is wrong.
    When I say this, I am not trying to be sexist:
    BUT, in my opinion the average woman is more capable of balancing her life, and knowing what is most important than the average man. That doesn’t mean that applies in every case.

    My only point was this:
    Campbell should not be, in turn, chastising Hillary for this incident. In all likelihood Clinton is rather embarrassed that her breast is being cupped in a photo online. Maybe there is a reason why she blew it off, made it lighter than in other cases. Probably because SEXISTS would judge HER for it, and she would be seen as a joke to them, which is not how you want to be seen as Secretary of State.
    Do you think Campbell would be making it a HUGE deal if her breast was being cupped in a picture online and she was playing an important role in the Obama administration? Doubt it.

  8. Jason, thanks for the explanation. i think we’ll still disagree about some of your examples. Your last comment leads me to wonder what CB would do if something similar happened to her when she was up for a big promotion. If she thought it would really hurt her ability to be taken seriously professionally – or if she thought it showed that she was being demeaned behind the scenes – would she complain vigorously? I would be surprised if she didn’t.

  9. I’m really somewhat surprised by some of these comments and usually, I’m pretty impressed.
    When a woman, like Hillary Clinton is in the public eye and is so prominant, why wouldn’t someone pay attention to something that gets on Facebook and is so blatently, obviously SEXIST ? (AND stupid). The fact that some of your writers were struggling with whether it was or not is the surprise. Yes, it is demeaning,etc. but It ISN”T sexist? !!
    Is this 2008, almost 2009?
    And I was very surprised at Hillary’s response, and disappointed too. I think she should have just ignored the public response and said something privately to this idiot , Jon Favreau whose humor is in the frathouse toilet. But if she is going to respond, why be a wus and not call a spade a spade? It is what it is….she could have used the incident to call attention to the fact that sexism, like racism and other forms of demeaning behavior are not just out there in the netherlands, but thrive even in the people close to us. It’s only the degree of ignorance and arrogance of people like Favreau whose humor reveals that POWER to him is using females sexually, no matter how high their stature. Anyone could be guilty of doing this privately or just in their thoughts. But reverse this and try to imagine a young, rather unknown female doing this at a party with say, Obama’s picture, or any man held in high esteem? Grappling his balls and showing off you could do that with friends would probably not be so amusing.
    Humor can have a lot to do with power. Mark Twain, and others who think well, understood this. The brightest comics have understood this. Anyone can make fun of anyone but using sex to demean females and get a laugh is easy and very old.
    Hillary shouldn’t have had such “motherly understanding” about Jon Favreau . I wish she’d said nothing but fired his stupid,sexist ass. She doesn’t have to tolerate this crap from those she hires. By the way, why is Rhonda,etc. so upset about Campbell caring about it? Do we have so many voices now on the national scene decrying blatent examples of sexism? Females can be soooo tough on other females !! :) ooooooo I know I’ll get called on that, even though I think it’s true and I’m 68 and a therapist who’s seen a lot of this. After all, females can be sexist too and against other females, can’t we? I really think many females have a much higher tolerance level for anything men do, compared with women. Smart, strong women speaking publicly used to be against the law in the US, aren’t they so annoying?

  10. suetiggers: Thank you for your post! I completely agree with you that Jon’s behavior was sexist in addition to inappropriate. Yes, imagine someone “grabbing” the balls of an Obama cut-out – I would expect a big uproar. The discussion here is precisely the thing that makes fighting sexism so difficult: Oh, it was just a joke, can’t you take a joke? No. I cannot take a joke that degrades another person, especially if the perpetrator is the speech writer of our next President. Maybe I’d roll my eyes and move on if he’d just be a frat-boy (though I’d shudder to think what he’d be running once he pretends to be grown up). But this isn’t just some frat-boy – even though he behaves that immaturely – he is pretty high up. (Hmm, is it just immature to be sexist? I guess that’s another question).

    As to Hillary’s response: I, too agree with suetiggers & Campbell. She should’ve pointed out the sexism. Although, there’s a part of me that likes the put-you-in-your-place quality of the response, it would be good if she could continue to raise awareness of sexism: both the actual sexism reflected in the picture and the sexism reflected in the “can’t you take a joke” reaction to any cries of sexism. I have never heard that be directed toward a man. Only people with less power are asked to take jokes, including the offensive ones.

    In response to Rhonda, this is a pretty clear example of sexism, no speech involved. Calling groping a woman’s body (presumably to put her into her place) “sexism” would not create fear of being labeled sexism.

  11. i’m on the fence. on the one hand, i agree with suetiggers and rachel that it would’ve been nice to see our smart woman in power speak out about such behaviour. on the other hand, i think she probably did manage to say ‘erm, actually, *i’m* the powerful one now, no matter what cardboard you grope you unemployed twerp’, and to do so without giving any naysayers additional fodder. can’t help but think that this links up nicely with the ongoing discussions/posts about calling oneself a feminist, no?

  12. Sexism, (like racism and almost every other “ism” ) has two main components. First is the intent of the event and second is how the “target” views the event. To demean anyone is wrong. That does not mean that every joke or funny moment somehow rises to being sexist or racist. It may be in bad taste and not funny to the “target” but that does not automatically make the person a racist or sexist.

    I suspect that Rachel and Suetiggers are known around their workplace as being the ones that male coworkers don’t want to talk around. They seem to feel that, using Rachels words, that:

    “Calling groping a woman’s body (presumably to put her into her place) “sexism” would not create fear of being labeled sexism.”

    The operative word here is “presumably”. They presume to define the intent of someone’s actions who they don’t know, were not there, have no stake in the supposed sexist event and they assume that every woman, and man, should bow down to their interpretation of what sexism is.

    Based on their comments here, I would definitely avoid any and all contact with them at work. I can picture them as having HRC and a lawyer on their speed dials to complain about supposed sexist behavior, even when not directed at them.

    Let us remember this was a cardboard photo not the woman herself. Presuming that grabbing a cardboard breast to put the woman in her place is not only reactionary it is down right ridiculous.

    I suggest that CB, Rachel and Sue, along with the rest who constantly “watch” for slights against them, need to get a thicker skin, grow up and get on with being an adult in this world. We have way more pressing issues to deal with than a young man having a beer and grabbing a cardboard breast.

  13. I’m thinking as I read the comments about how disappointed I was that Obama didn’t speak out forcibly about racism in that highly admired speech he gave in late spring about how many people were disadvantaged in the States. It may well be that his not doing so enabled people to see him as a uniter; he worked extremely hard not to be divisive, polarizing. It occurs to me on reading through the comments that Hillary might well be thinking that she can’t be a polarizing figure right now. Her most important obligation, she may feel, is to get the country united behind a constructive foreign policy that can benefit women around the world.

    Not, mind you, that I do know, but I think the motive Campbell attributed to Hillary might well tell us more about Campbell’s values than Hillary’s.

    I hope Rhonda will think about whether her impression of CB is really due to something within her and maybe even a dislike of “bad girls” who call the boys out on their damaging behavior. That sort of behavior can be very disturbing; the guys can get all worked up, dismissive and belittling in a way one can find quite threatening. Trying to change how people act is very threatening, though really someone has got to try to do it.

    People who think it is just a joke may really be missing a lot in their own social setting too.


  14. erm, right. anyway, rachel i forgot to mention it’s an interesting point you make about people in power never being asked to take a joke. i think you’re probably right, and i think it’s an interesting fact about joking, if you are.

  15. I think the comments in this thread are an interesting tie-in to the new post on how “far we’ve come.” Not very. It is still okay to objectify a woman. And we’re still told that we should get a thicker skin and are men-hating, castrating feminists when we call people on their sexism.

  16. mikenola,

    Going on about how you feel men wouldn’t want to be near some of the commentators is borderline unacceptable on this blog. You made the point; the repetition and personalizing of it was unnecessary.

    Fortunately for women in the workplace, the laws about creating a hostile work environment are not about intent – at least the ones I am aware of. Further, it is highly debatable whether sexism or racism require an intent for each action.

    lp, thanks for mentioning Rachael’s interesting point; suetiggers, thanks for being willing to risk the sort of reactions you got. Getting change going can be really unpleasant.

  17. Commenters, PLEASE DO KNOW: While our commenting policy is under review, it remains the case that comments which contain personal attacks on other people on this blog – including posters and commentators – may be deleted. We welcome debate, but not abuse.

    Racist and sexist comments are also liable to removal.

  18. Note that Campbell not only castigated Hillary for not responding well (“properly”) to the Facebook picture incident but that she also accused Hillary of being a shrewd politician whose only concern is to exploit the sexism issue when it suits her (as she allegedly did during the primaries) and that Hillary only cared about power. Campbell’s intentions for such a criticism of Hillary may have been noble but I think she was unnecessarily and extremely harsh on her. Through her criticism, I felt that Campbell raised the bar so high for Hillary, who can rightly be considered a representative of feminists, that it is almost impossible for most people to meet the former’s standards. I think women creating such high moral standards for other women in politics is not pragmatic at all! One never sees men creating those kind of standards for other men!

  19. VL, nice point about high standards. I think Campbell’s conjecture (she’s just interested in power) might tell us more about C’s motives than about H’s. I wonder if comparable men understand better the complexity of power in the public square and having a public persona with a hierarchy of important goals. (This hypothesis doesn’t sound really right to me; maybe someone can come up with a better one.) It’s not as though women have had a lot of opportunities to learn about it.

    I’ve noticed, for the record, that if I feel strongly about something and go to bat for it, people are likely to say (a) she’s trying to control us, or (b) she’s promoting herself. I used to think that they understood what it was like to get strongly committed to a cause, but now I think maybe they don’t, and they’re really reporting motives they would have. I’m pretty sure Hillary is strongly committed to building a rational foreign policy, and I suspect she decided that remarks about sexism would just mean she’d further polarize people. Bad on Campbell for not seeing she could have such motives.

    Yikes, I better stop standing in judgment on all these people. it takes too much energy. :)

  20. It is very hard to respond to personal attacks that come out of arrogance and ignorance. I was just going to ignore this blog after reading the kind of comments made by mikenola08. I appreciated the positive comments by Rachel and a few others. It is ironic that using mikenolan08’s own standard of “presuming intent” actually makes his own mean-spirited statements about my own intent obvious. He appears to believe he has the right to be sarcastic , i.e. “should bow down to their interpretation of what sexism is”.
    And he personalizes his remarks that he “would definitely avoid all contact with them at work.” and ” he “can picture them as having HRC and a lawyer on their speed dials to complain about supposed sexist behavior, even when not directed at them.”
    I and Rachel and Campbell Brown are all said to be “constantly” watching for slights, should “get a thicker skin, grow up and get on with being an adult in this world”….

    I am 68, have raised 4 children, have lived with my husband of 32 years in a very good relationship and as of psychotherapist over over 30 yrs. believe I am “grown up”. I’ve never sued anyone.
    As for the suggestion that I get a “thicker skin”, I am amazed at the arrogance in this kind of suggestion. Would he say something like this to an Afro-American who questioned a racist remark? Maybe he would.
    He misses the point in so many ways. It just sounds like he’s angry that some women are angry about demeaning comments and we must be wrong. So we should just get “a thicker skin” and “lighten up” as someone else said.
    I don’t care if he believes it or not but he’s dead wrong about the men I work with and know. They would not agree with his thinking, I am sure…..but then, they are mature men who don’t think they know it all. And no one who knows me well, including my husband and three sons and 90 % of the men I’ve worked with over the years would agree with mikenola08’s quick assessment of who I am.
    As others have said about comments like this, it says more about him than those he is writing about.

    I have read some great writing on this web site. It is what attracted me to it. But it certainly has deteriorated on this subject. It appears to have brought out the insecure, immature people out who are not struggling with understanding sexism, but who think they already know it all and resent anyone who thinks differently about it.

    Is this site supposed to be a discussion of ideas or like so many places on the web, an opportunity for ignorant, arrogant and disrespectful comments to be directed at those of us who have something to say that they don’t like.

  21. mikenola08:

    To demean anyone is wrong…

    [And soon the rant follows] I suspect that Rachel and Suetiggers are known around their workplace as being the ones that male coworkers don’t want to talk around…

    Based on their comments here, I would definitely avoid any and all contact with them at work…

    Now, what does that tell us about Mikenola08’s argumentative skills? Quite a lot!

  22. Perhaps I’m too cynical, but I strongly suspect that Clinton’s campaign has also got some arseholes behaving badly in it. I’ve read enough to get the sense that such people are often very good at politics and viewed as a necessary evil for any campaign that wants to succeed. (And the Clintons are not known for shying away from such people.) That makes me suspect she’s got to be very cautious about any condemnations she might make, given what might have gone on at her campaign parties. Given that limitation, I think she handled it beautifully.

  23. patricia w, I might have been wrong to treat the offending comment as borderline; it certainly was shocking to see the refrain of “well, if you say that sort of thing, no one will want to play with you,” which I think of as the sort of brutal training with which a young girl might be socialized. I think VL’s comment is very apt.

    This particular post has been picked up by the media and so there’s more diversity of opinion than one might be used to.

    Jender, your interesting take makes me realize that there may also be an informal policy that what is done is private by one’s staff is more off-limits, where “in private” might include a party.

  24. jender’s comment makes me realize: none of us has stopped to wonder what obama is doing in response to this.

    (Patricia w: the nice thing about this site is that *you* have the majority view, not mikenolan08. unlike real life!)

  25. I have to admit that I was hoping for some figurative blood to run after I saw the photo. As far as I’m concerned, no response short of physical violence is too harsh as long as one sees Favreau as a symbol of male privilege.

    On the other hand, if Clinton thinks her diplomatic response will get the most long-term mileage, then who am I to second-guess her?

  26. um, wow.

    i think hrc’s response was quite funny. especially as he can’t possible be applying for a position in the state department; he’s on the white house communications staff. i’m hoping he got an earful about it on the inside, but a little more accountability would be nice.

    i have to say i’m ambivalent about this, because this was obviously embarrassingly sexist and demeaning behaviour, but on the other hand, that kid writes some really lovely speeches. yikes!

  27. Apparently the kid is now going to be the president’s chief speech writer.

    It is unfortunate but true that people can be very talented without being very nice. Not, of course, that I know he won’t grow up to be nicer.

  28. It’s fairly obvious to me that this picture is harmless, although I’m not sure how I might convince those who disagree.

    It’s very hard to articulate just what it is that makes a joke or gesture truly objectionable or offensive, yet I think that most people have a measure of common sense about this sort of thing. For instance, many off-color jokes that comedians (e.g. Dave Chappelle) make may appear indistinguishable from racist or misogynistic remarks; nevertheless it is obvious to almost everyone they are not racist. (And not because these individuals are ignorant or because they have internalized racist views.) I feel the same way about this picture: It’s a guy goofing off at a party. It’s totally frivolous, and for many this is so easy to discern that to intellectualize the matter seems laughable; the trademark of academics who lack ordinary street sense.

    Many of the above posters imagine that people who see no harm in this sort of thing are just failing to think critically, or have perhaps been unwittingly inured to misogyny. Yet I can’t help but that think a knee-jerk accusation of sexism in this case is really the more simplistic way of looking at it. And when I see people outraged at this picture, I see an interpretation which is much more superficial than they likely suppose (“He’s cupping her breast! He must be using sex to demean her!”). I see individuals who are tone-deaf to the nuances which distinguish jokes which involve sex from jokes which are sexist.

  29. Btw, this has left me wondering, “Suppose Hillary’s chief speech-writer were a female and she posed in front of an Obama cutout, cupping his private parts with her hands, then what would have been the public and media reaction?” Would people have said, “Ah, she’s just having fun, and even though she did a “stupid” thing, her talent more than compensates for her stupidity!”? My initial guess is that she would be labeled too much of a “loose” character and someone not quite appropriate for a job as serious as that of a speech-writer for Hillary. What do others think?

  30. Standish, Sexism and Racism have to do with ideas about the superiority of one group over another. So, in this context, what is Dave Chappelle really doing when he uses the cliches of racism? There are probably a lot of different things he might be doing, but these stand out for me:

    1. He realizes that demeaning blacks is sort of standard really good fun for whites and he wants to get paid a lot, so he’s just being entertaining in a way lots of whites will like.

    2. He’s actually racist himself, so he’s repeating all this stuff because he likes making the inferiority of blacks clear.

    3. He’s appropriating the racist language in order to render it less toxic.

    Of course, the standard interpretation is # 3, but I take it you might think #1 is plausible? I think that’s not plausible, because he has a huge following in the black community and they really don’t find white racism all that much fun.

    Now, what’s doing on with pawing Hillary. It’s just fun? Hmmmmmmm. why is that fun? I mean, if I were to get friends together and we had the chance to paw over the picture of, say, the last chancellor of my university, I think I’d rather not. So which women is it fun and funny to paw over?

    The problem with the comment “it was just fun” is that it doesn’t explain why it was fun.

  31. i think laughter often springs from discomfort, no? so, the fact that you’ve laughed at a thing could actually be evidence that it *is* inappropriate or harmful. but even if that’s wrong, it’s clearly right that there’s not a funny-and-harmless/unfunny-and-harmful dichotomy. not that i think any of this is at all funny. but the fact that you do, standish, surely doesn’t show that there’s nothing wrong with it. you can call us “simple” all you like; frankly, it seems admirable to me to interpret things simply when the things just are simple. and this one is.

  32. I thought it was well-known that Chappelle quit his show at the height of its popularity specifically because he realised that his humour was being twisted — what had started out as a very incisive critical satire of racism and race relations in the contemporary US was being turned into `funny black man says racist things for the entertainment of whites’.

    Thomas Ford, a psychologist currently at Western CArolina University, has done work showing that sexist humor has what he calls a `prejudice-releasing’ function — making and telling sexist jokes makes sexist comments and attitudes more socially acceptable, even more so than the sexist comments and attitudes themselves. So even if Favreau didn’t intend for his actions to demean and disrespect Clinton, they might still have that effect, and can still be condemned on those grounds — which, I believe, are the grounds critics of Favreau have been using.

    I think the `it’s just a joke’ defence is quite odious.

  33. Initially reading this post my response was that I think Brown brings up a good point that I think many feminists would have loved to see HRC call out the sexism. But on a more realistic note, HRC has been criticised *so* much for mentioning any of it on the campaign trail if I were in her shoes I would probably prefer to just ignore it as well.

    I believe someone else pointed this out but I think that CB holds HRC to some very high standards that some (myself included) might consider impossible and while it would be great to have someone be the figurehead for feminist values, it is also close to impossible to have that person also be a successful politician. And I believe HRC is astute enough to understand how to walk the line of being a very strong feminist who doesn’t let things go easily but knows when to pick her battles.

    I was also very disappointed with some of the comments here because it seems to me that there are some people who don’t understand the difference between satire (which is what I associate with Dave Chapelle) and frat boy humor that is actually sexist regardless of whether it was meant to be or not. Sexism is actually still running quite rampant within our society and I, sadly, don’t think it’s changing any time soon. But I also think that just having one political figurehead such as HRC is not enough to make that change. It is slow and women need to stand together for it to happen and unfortunately there are quite a few women who have criticised HRC for crying “wolf” about sexism so that just makes it an even steeper hill to climb to get over to the other side.

    Unlike with racism, women sell each other out all the time. If you made an similar remarks about a person of color it wouldn’t slide under the table so easily and there would be far fewer people of color saying oh well is overreacting, I imagine there would be a public apology and possibly even being dismissed of your post. I am actually hugely irritated that he is still employed because that just means that Obama has no respect for the fact that this is an issue and that women should be treated with respect. Tragic, for a President who got the majority vote from women in this country.

  34. The claim that HRC’s reluctance to speak out is actually a shrewd political tactic strikes me as pretty ad-hoc; I certainly don’t think that many of the above posters would have advocated such a response before knowing what Hillary has actually done. I don’t personally see anything worth talking about in the picture in question, but I am repulsed that someone might sincerely believe it to be sexist and decide to just play along.

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