An Obama presser is hardly a "teachable moment" in gender studies

As you no doubt heard during the breathless media moment of naval gazing which took place before the semi-retired president headed for the links in Hawaii, there was a phenomenal moment in the form of his final press conference for the year. Barack Obama tossed all of the questions to female reporters. At the time it seemed like a harmless enough distraction to me. All of the members of the press corps are there with essentially the same baseline qualifications and are working toward the same purpose. In theory, who he calls on to recite the questions in these largely pro forma, information free events shouldn’t matter a great deal.

Unless, of course, you are Tanya Odom, writing an op-ed for CNN. In which case, it was a world shaking moment.

The event, in a way, is a “live case study” of what happens in boardrooms, classrooms and conferences around the world. There are voices, opinions, questions and life experiences of people that should be heard, but are not.

Imagine if those who were not regularly called on were paid attention. Imagine the potential transformation everywhere.

Women are the missing voices in U.S. workplaces. According to the Center for American Progress, women make up 14.6% of executive officers, 8.1% of top earners, and 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Women of color comprise 11.9% of managerial and professional positions, and 3.2% of the board seats on Fortune 500 companies…

What happens when specific groups of people are not seen or heard? The result is a potential default to stereotypical images and ideas (often imbued with unconscious or implicit bias) that can seep into our languages and behaviors, which can turn into acts of bias, microaggressions, or exclusion.

The tone deaf nature of narrative-serving pieces such as this should be obvious, but it’s also representative of how far the discussion of equality issues in the United States has gone off the beam. We could open a dialogue here stretching on for days about the very real and righteously wonderful ways in which men and women are, in fact, different, and why we should openly celebrate those blessed distinctions. But as true as that patently obvious observation may be, it has nothing to do with the point which Odom tries and rather spectacularly fails to make.

The dingy hall of the White House press corps is, contrary to what might be indicated by the many painfully hilarious gaffes which regularly take place there, a place of business. That business is to allow journalists a chance to put questions to the Leader of the Free World or his appointed minions and ostensibly get answers which they can print or chat about endless on TV and radio. The fact that the reality of the situation has become a dog and pony show for the force feeding of talking points does not entirely diminish that stated, formerly noble pursuit. But to get to Ms. Odom’s premise, the job description for journalists working the Oval Office beat neither puts up barriers to practitioners of either gender nor provides a head start in terms of coverage for one or the other.

The starting point for all of these discussions – if I’m remembering correctly – is that women are just as qualified to do the job as men, should be paid the same amount and be given the same opportunities. Right? It wasn’t that one gender was somehow better qualified or would produce a noticeably different product aside from certain elements of style. Men should not be offended by Obama calling on all women on any given day – and I didn’t see any who were – any more than women should be offended by his calling upon men. You can all allegedly handle the job.

And, as an even more important note for Ms. Odom, nobody is there to lend their voice. It’s not your voice the public needs to hear. It’s the voice of the White House explaining their actions and statements in response to pertinent questions from the press. Perhaps there is some disparity, as she claims, in how often teachers call on little girls versus little boys in grade school. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the White House press room is not supposed to be a third grade classroom, despite the persnickety displays of some of the regulars. And the President is not Charlie Brown’s homeroom class teacher. Rather than feeling snubbed, the assembled reporters should focus more on getting their facts in order and doing their jobs in terms of holding elected officials accountable.

In closing, on what is possibly an unrelated note, if I have to read the “word” microaggressions on CNN one more time I’m going to need a new screen on my laptop after I punch it.

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