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Does basketball make Obama sexist?

In an interview with NBC about women’s issues, President Obama went out of his way to say all the right things about gender roles and how women sometimes get the short stick in family power dynamics. Men “are a little obtuse about this stuff” he said. Then he demonstrated some obtuseness when asked about his men’s-only pickup basketball games, and whether they might exclude women from access:

“I think this is bunk,” Obama said. He explained that he invited the regular House of Representatives pick-up basketball players. “I don’t know if there are women who— were Members of Congress who play basketball on a regular basis,” Obama said. “I don’t think there are. You know, I don’t think sends any kind of message or signal whatsoever.”

It is admittedly difficult to see Nancy Pelosi lacing them up and taking the ball to the hoop. OK, it’s impossible. But by getting defensive with his “this is bunk” comment, the president seems to signal a certain thoughtlessness about the issue.

News for Obama: All those congressmen and staffers who play baskeball with you do not do so because they really love playing basketball with you. You’re the president, you love basketball — so they play basketball for access, to get a little face time. And maybe that access gets them a little bit of an edge next time they’re looking for support on a vote, or have an idea they want to see implemented.

And the “boys-only” basketball games excludes women from an opportunity to have that same acccess, to get that same support and to make the same kind of difference within government.

I’m not suggesting Obama give up basketball, or try to get Sonia Sotomayor playing defense on him. But if the president is smart and thoughtful enough to recognize the burdens that women in his own family carry so he can pursue his career, maybe he should be smart and thoughtful enough to recognize the basketball dynamic. Calling it “bunk” signals that his heart might not be quite so feminist as he claims.

  1. obamniac Says: Oct 22 12:41 PM

    Check out this post: http://barackoflove.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/bo-and-i-are-surrounded/

  2. Kim Callahan Says: Oct 22 12:47 PM

    Thank you, Joel. It’s so nice to encounter men who get it (vs. men who claim to get it but then act all defensive, and even hostile, for no apparent reason). Why didn’t Obama just say, “If any women would like to play, they are more than welcome to”? So simple.

  3. joel Says: Oct 22 12:54 PM

    Kim: I’m sure my wife would tell you I don’t *always* get it.

  4. Kate Says: Oct 22 1:13 PM

    What’s the background here… are the games described by the players as “men’s-only” or do only men play? The women in congress have already shown their ability and willingness to enter into a male dominated area… are they really not playing basketball because they don’t feel invited?

  5. phillygrrl Says: Oct 22 1:21 PM

    I wanna play basketball.

  6. Deregulator Says: Oct 22 2:11 PM

    Joel, you may recall that Arnold Schwarzennegger once had a tent set up on the grounds of the state Capitol in Sacramento so that lawmakers and staff could join him for cigars. Don’t know if other forms of tobacco were allowed, or how many women joined the bull sessions. It does suggest the same sort of (if I can use the term) old-boys’ network.

  7. brian Says: Oct 25 9:14 PM

    Joel:

    Do you play hoops? At 58 I am still playing pick up. It has nothing to do with networking, those that try to do this are “banned”. I play with women, but these are women who like to play … every day . . . .so are there any such women in Congress? I am sure the Prez would love to have them on his squad. Like him, they usually pass the ball.

  8. joel Says: Oct 25 9:17 PM

    Brian: I don’t think a basketball game has to be a formal networking opportunity for it to exist as such. People may not be pitching legislation to Obama when they’re on the court with him, but presidential face time is a pretty huge status signal in Washington.

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