This past weekend, President Obama included White House aide Melody Barnes in his golfing foursome. News? For this president, yes.
Up until that golf game, Obama had not included a single woman in White House staff activities such as basketball, fishing and golf. So why now invite a female staffer? Because this week the media started to question whether Obama had essentially created a fraternity house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The media glare came after yet another high-level all-male basketball game earlier this month. When MSNBC’s Savannah Guthrie asked Obama if these all-male games were sexist, Obama responded: “I think this is bunk."
By which I believe he meant, B.S. Meant that inclusion of women at this kind of level is not a goal worth considering. Meant that despite Title IX being passed three decades ago to give girls equal access to sports, our president, leader of the free world, just wants to hang with the guys. When he added, "I don’t think it sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever," he was implying that sports equality doesn’t matter, as a symbol or as a reality.
As the coach of a teen girls’ basketball team, this story made me cringe. We mothers work so hard to teach our daughters that they can be whatever they want to be. Courtesy of Title IX, my daughter grew up watching the WNBA and believing that someday she will become a professional basketball player.
When Sarah Palin entered the national political scene as John McCain’s V.P. candidate, my daughter read that the Alaskan had played point guard on her state-champion high school team. My daughter, who plays point guard on her seventh-grade travel team, proudly cut out a picture of Palin and put it on her locker with the comment, "Palin, You Rock My World!"
The importance of role models. Ugh, yes, role models. The message my daughter got from point-guard Palin was: My possibilities include the chance of running the world. And here’s the message all our daughters are getting from watching Obama play hoops with the guys: It’s still a man’s world. You might get chosen for the Cabinet (25 percent of Obama’s Cabinet picks are women) or as one of the czars (though fewer than 10 percent are women). But even if you sit at the table, you’ll still be an Obama outsider if you can’t dunk the ball.
Despite Obama’s attempted dismissal of the sexism charge as "bunk," his own actions show that he knows the power of behind-the-scenes bonding. As a freshman state senator back in Illinois, Obama helped form a weekly poker game in Springfield, and not just for the fun of it. According to a February ’08 New Yorker story: "And, like Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, Senator Obama seems to have played the game at least partly because it enabled him to form political alliances that he might not otherwise have formed." Or as the president himself told the AP six months earlier: "In Springfield, it was a way to get to know other senators, including Republicans."
So why, Mr. President, do you assume that women do not need these political alliances? Is it that the White House is a man’s world (a question that yesterday’s New York Times explored on page one)? Or is it simply that you are uncomfortable around women?
American women should expect more from our president. And maybe here is a lesson learned: In the end, women cannot keep relying on men’s willingness to include them. It’s time to elect a woman president. With 2012 just around the corner, it’s time to find a franchise player of our own.
Amy Siskind is the President and Co-Founder of The New Agenda, an organization dedicated to improving the lives of women and girls. Ms. Siskind has appeared on CNN, FOX , and PBS. Ms. Siskind also writes for The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post.