Jon Favreau and the Facebook Incident

The Washington Post)

Jon Favreau, Barack Obama's chief speechwriter, and a friend pose with a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. (Source: The Washington Post)

For about two hours on Thursday afternoon, the picture on the right was posted on Facebook. It could be a scene from a frat party, except look more closely and you’ll notice that the man on the right is wearing a shirt that reads “Obama Staff.” On the left is 27-year-old Jon Favreau, Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter. The two are shown posing with a lifesize cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. Favreau is shown cupping his hand over Clinton’s breast while the unidentified person on the right is pulling back her hair, placing a beer in her face and giving her a kiss.

Since the photo first surfaced, I’ve seen reactions ranging from outrage and calls for Favreau to be fired to apathy and “boys will be boys” type justifications (see blog posts about this issue here, here, here and here). According to The Washington Post, Favreau “reached out to Senator Clinton to offer an apology.”

The Washington Post reported that “Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines cast the photos as evidence of increased bonhomie between the formerly rival camps.” Reines stated that “Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon’s obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application.” Campbell Brown criticized Clinton for not taking the incident seriously after having denounced sexism throughout her campaign. As a blogger pointed out on Shakesville, it’s possible Clinton responded this way to avoid being labeled a “humorless feminist,” or maybe she really doesn’t see it as a big deal. Either way, I think the blame should be placed on the men in the photo, not Clinton.

The photo could be easily dismissed as silly, immature behavior at a party, but I think more should be expected from someone with a high profile position in the Obama administration. It shows a lack of judgment on Favreau’s part, and I don’t think it’s overreacting or being a “humorless feminist” to call him out on it. Of course there are other pressing issues to be concerned about, but excusing actions like this sends the message that it’s ok to disrespect women. Just because sexist behavior is often normalized in our culture doesn’t mean it should be viewed as acceptable.


December 9, 2008 Posted by | politics, Sexism | | Leave a comment

PETA fails, again

Feministing posted about PETA‘s newest attempt at advertising. Apparently, PETA is petitioning the U.S. government to post advertisements on the U.S.-Mexico border to encourage immigrants to choose a vegan diet. The message on the billboards would read (in English and Spanish): “If the Border Patrol Doesn’t Get You, the Chicken and Burgers Will — Go Vegan.” I don’t understand why anyone would think this is a good idea. If they’re just trying to generate controversy and gain publicity, it looks like they are succeeding. Miriam at Feministing pointed out that the fences interfere with migration patterns of animals living in those regions, but PETA doesn’t seem to care about that.

Of course, this isn’t the first time PETA has made poor advertising choices. They continue to rely on sexist advertising that objectifies women. In PETA’s letter in The New York Times last month, the president of PETA defends their advertising by arguing that “sex sells.” She acknowledges that “animal suffering and human suffering are undeniably interconnected” and insists that PETA is concerned about both. However, by continuing to use offensive ads, PETA is sending the message that they respect animals more than they respect people. I don’t think that alienating feminists who support animal rights is going to help their cause.

August 20, 2008 Posted by | Sexism, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Patriarchy and the Olympics

Some articles and blog posts I’ve been reading:

In Grand Olympic Show, Some Sleight of Voice. The Olympics organizers faced a dilemma when choosing the child to sing “Ode to the Motherland” at the opening ceremony. While they decided that seven year old Yang Peiyi had the best voice, they didn’t think she was as “flawless” as nine year old Lin Miaoke. The production team decided to use Yan Peiyi’s voice and put Lin Miaoke on stage. General music designer Chen Qigang justified this decision by explaining that “we must put our country’s interest first.” What a terrible message to send to both of the girls involved. One girl is told she’s not pretty enough, and the other is told she’s not talented enough. Peiyi told China Central Television that she is ok with it and is just happy that her voice was used in the performance. Miaoke’s father said that his daughter wasn’t upset by the news and that she “doesn’t care who sang the song, as long as she performed.” He added, “I don’t care about this either. The only thing I care about is that my daughter will not get hurt by this. She’ll understand when she grows up.”

Hoyden About Town blogs about the objectification of female athletes in the Olympics. The side by side comparisons of men and women athletes show that there is definitely a double standard when it comes to uniforms for male and female Olympians. As Lauredhel points out, “It’s not about faster, higher, stronger. Women in sports are promoted as sexualised bodies for ogling; men are promoted as performers.”

Olympic medal-winning women called “gold-diggers.” According to Feministing, Sydney Morning Herald published a picture of the Australian women’s 4×200 relay swim team with the caption, “Shock Result for Aussies Gold Diggers.” They have since changed the caption to “The Fab Four.”

Over at the Feministing community blog, there is a post about the sexualization of female Olympians. Another blogger wrote this post analyzing Buzz Bissinger’s “Creep Show” article in The New York Times.

The XY Games. This New York Times article examines the practice of subjecting female athletes to tests to verify that they are women. Jennifer Finney Boylan examines the difficulties in attempting to define gender in rigid, binary terms and arrives at this conclusion: “Maybe this means that Olympic officials have to learn to live with ambiguity, and make peace with a world in which things are not always quantifiable and clear.”


Slate posted this article about women’s uniforms in the table tennis competition. According to Yahoo Sports, the vice president of the International Table Tennis Federation is telling women players to wear skirts and shirts “with more curves” to attract viewers. Of course, he isn’t requesting that the men change their uniforms. It’s not right to ask the women players to change the way they dress since it obviously has nothing to do with functionality. The players should be able to wear whatever they choose, and the focus should be on their performance.

August 14, 2008 Posted by | Feminism, Sexism | , | Leave a comment

Target Women: Feeding Your F—ing Family

The newest segment of Target Women is up on Current TV. Once again, Sarah Haskins does a great job mocking ridiculous ads targeted towards women. This time she focuses on commercials aimed at moms who cook for their family. I don’t watch much TV so I haven’t seen a lot these, which is probably a good thing. That slow motion crock pot ad is just creepy. And I love the sarcasm bit Sarah does after the Tyson’s commercial. “Trumpets? Standing on chairs? Waffles? Fine, maybe I’ll move into grandma’s house and then everyone can have waffles every night!” Brilliant.

You can find links to other Target Women segments at my previous post here.

July 23, 2008 Posted by | Comedy, Feminism, Sexism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fox News: “A festival of ignorance”

I just saw this Fox News clip from February 2008 and thought it was hilarious. Lee Camp, a comedian, calls Fox News “a parade of propaganda” and “a festival of ignorance.” The anchor attempts to cut him off and introduces the next segment, a promotion of the book “Captain Kirk’s Guide to Women.” I think that proves Lee’s point well.

Via Feministing

July 5, 2008 Posted by | Sexism, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Fictional characters get makeovers

According to The New York Times, fictional characters are being redesigned in an effort to bolster sales by appealing to both “parents’ nostalgia and children’s YouTube-era sensibilities.”

Strawberry Shortcake gets a new image

Strawberry Shortcake’s updated look was introduced on Tuesday. The new, flirtier Strawberry Shortcake has apparently lost her appetite for sugary desserts and is now on a fruit diet. Jeffrey Conrad, head creative designer of American Greetings, explained that this change in food preference is part of a new “fruit-forward” theme. It appears that the cartoon star also dyed her hair pink, started wearing lipstick, and replaced her calico cat with a cellphone.

Other makeovers in fictional character land include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with “more muscles and less attitude” and Care Bears with “less belly fat” and “longer eyelashes.”

But Care Bears are supposed to have belly fat! Even cartoon bears have to be skinny now? And Ninja Turtles with less attitude? What is the world coming to?

A new Mickey Mouse is in the works, but I don’t really want to know how that’s going to turn out.

June 13, 2008 Posted by | Sexism, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Purity Balls

The New York Times recently reported on purity balls, in which girls don dresses, dance with their fathers, and pledge their virginities in “a joyous public affirmation of the girls’ sexual abstinence until they wed.” I’m all for father-daughter bonding, but this seems to be more about reinforcing patriarchal ideals than about spending some quality time together.

Ballerinas carried a 7-foot wooden cross into the ballroom at the Broadmoor.

“Fathers, our daughters are waiting for us,” Mr. Wilson, 49, told the men. “They are desperately waiting for us in a culture that lures them into the murky waters of exploitation. They need to be rescued by you, their dad.”

If parents are worried about their daughters being led astray, wouldn’t it be more effective to empower them to make their own decisions than to teach them that they need to be “rescued” by their fathers?

Also, why are girls responsible for ensuring they stay “pure” while boys are out of the picture? Wouldn’t it make sense for boys to pledge their virginities too? Apparently premarital sex is believed to be worse for girls because they’re more emotional:

For the Wilsons and the growing number of people who have come to their balls, premarital sex is seen as inevitably destructive, especially to girls, who they say suffer more because they are more emotional than boys. Fathers, they say, play a crucial role in helping them stay pure.

Or maybe it’s because of the old-fashioned belief that girls belong to their fathers until marriage, when they are then passed on to their husbands.

According to the article, some girls come to purity balls with their future father-in-laws:

Stephen Clark, 64, came to the ball for the first time with Ashley Avery, 17, who is “promised” to his son, Zane, 16. Mr. Clark brought Ashley, in her white satin gown, to show her that he loved her like a daughter, he said, something he felt he needed to underscore after Ashley’s father left her family a year ago.

I think it’s great that girls like Ashley are shown support and love, and it sounds like events like these can help strengthen bonds between girls and their fathers or father-figures. However, the idea that girls need to “promise” themselves to their future husbands sounds like ownership.

According to the New York Times, the idea that abstinence pledges are effective in preventing premarital sex isn’t supported by research:

Recent studies have suggested that close relationships between fathers and daughters can reduce the risk of early sexual activity among girls and teenage pregnancy. But studies have also shown that most teenagers who take abstinence pledges, like those at the ball, end up having sex before marriage, and they are far less likely to use condoms than their peers.

Maybe a better approach would be to focus more on forming close relationships and teaching teenagers to make good decisions and less on controlling and protecting daughters from the evil forces of the world.

May 21, 2008 Posted by | Sexism | | Leave a comment

Hillary Clinton and the gender issue

Now that Obama is predicted to win the nomination, writers such as Jodi Kantor, Peggy Orenstein and Kate Zernike are reflecting on the role that gender has played throughout Hillary Clinton’s campaign. While there are many reasons why Hillary Clinton is no longer the front runner, I think it is important to acknowledge that sexism has been present in this campaign. This video does a great job of showing some of the gender discrimination that Clinton has faced from the media.

In an interview with Lois Romano at the Washington Post, Clinton addressed this issue and stated that sexism is often tolerated by the media:

The manifestation of some of the sexism that has gone on in this campaign is somehow more respectable, or at least more accepted, and…there should be equal rejection of the sexism and the racism when it raises its ugly head,” she said. “It does seem as though the press at least is not as bothered by the incredible vitriol that has been engendered by the comments by people who are nothing but misogynists.”

The entire transcript of the interview is available here.

Sexism is often “shrugged off,” as Clinton says it has been during this campaign. However, I think it’s important to recognize that both candidates have faced unfair attacks. RJ Eskow at the Huffington Post argues that sexism and racism are interrelated issues that must be addressed and fought at the same time.

Jodi Kantor asks how the issue of sexism will affect the voting decisions of Clinton’s supporters:

If many of Mrs. Clinton’s legions of female supporters believe she was undone even in part by gender discrimination, how eagerly will they embrace Senator Barack Obama, the man who beat her?

RJ Eskow offers this response:

Here’s some food for thought: More than 100 American service women have died in Iraq. Tens of thousands of Iraqi women – possibly hundreds of thousands – have also died. American women will lose control over their own reproductive rights under a McCain Supreme Court. How can any feminist remain neutral – or vote for McCain – in 2008?

While Obama may need to work on appealing to female voters and addressing the concerns of Clinton supporters, would anyone who cares about these issues really be ok with supporting McCain?


This video from The Women’s Media Center also illustrates the sexism demonstrated by the media during Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote an article debunking the myth that mobs of angry women Clinton supporters will be voting for McCain.

May 20, 2008 Posted by | politics, Sexism | , , | Leave a comment

Phyllis Schlafly to receive honorary degree

As I found out through feministing, Phyllis Schlafly will receive an honorary degree from Washington University in St. Louis this weekend. Schlafly graduated from Washington University in 1944 after working her way through college. In 1978, she received a J.D. from Washington University Law School.

Schlafly spent a decade battling the Equal Rights Amendment, is in favor of banning women from working in nontraditional fields, and opposes the teaching of evolution. She also insists that spousal rape doesn’t exist. According to her, a woman consents to sex when getting married, “and I don’t think you can call it rape.”

Many students and professors have protested against the university’s decision to award Schlafly an honorary degree. There are currently over 3,000 members in a facebook group entitled “No honorary doctorate for anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly.”

It seems hypocritical that Schlafly is opposed to women’s rights when she took advantage of educational opportunities, worked through school, and built a successful career as a lawyer and author. It is important for universities to allow people to express dissenting opinions, but Schlafly isn’t going to Washington University to give a speech. Instead, she is being honored for her life’s work. As others have pointed out, this sends a very negative message to the female graduates who will be receiving their degrees that day.

According to, Schlafly responded to the protests with name calling:

Schlafly said feminists are still angry with her for leading the successful fight against passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. She called feminism an ideology that preaches that women are victims.

“They’re not going to ruin my day,” she said in a phone interview. “They’re a bunch of losers.”

The Chancellor of Washington University responded to the protests and is standing by the university’s decision to award the degree.

Chancellor Mark Wrighton explained:

In bestowing this degree, the University is not endorsing Mrs. Schlafly’s views or opinions; rather, it is recognizing an alumna of the University whose life and work have had a broad impact on American life and have sparked widespread debate and controversies that in many cases have helped people better formulate and articulate their own views about the values they hold.

Schlafly certainly has “sparked widespread debate and controversies,” but is that enough to justify honoring someone with a degree?

Students who oppose this decision will be holding a silent protest at the graduation ceremony.

May 16, 2008 Posted by | Feminism, Sexism | , | Leave a comment

Sexism and the summer dress

Last month, The New York Times published Long Live the Dress (for Now), in which the author laments the predicted demise of the dress. I responded with this letter to the editor, which was published last Thursday:

To the Editor:

I was disappointed to read “Long Live the Dress (for Now).” Mr. Trebay treats women like decorative objects who wear dresses for the benefit of men. In a culture that constantly objectifies women, it is disturbing to read an article that reduces women to objects of the male gaze.

I also disagree with the fashion director who remarked that dresses allow women more time to “concentrate on who you’re voting for for president” by simplifying wardrobe choices.

The notion that women can’t concentrate on both politics and what they’re going to wear the next day is insulting. Men wear trousers and yet they don’t seem to have this problem, so why should women?

May 16, 2008 Posted by | Sexism | , , , | Leave a comment