- (Reuters/Gary Hershorn)
President Obama is in hot water and not just because of his sinking approval rating. A new book titled Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, by Ron Suskind, reveals that the White House may be a testosterone filled environment hostile to women.
Tension within the administration began early in the Obama presidency when women felt that they had less access to the president than their male counterparts. They also felt left out of many important meetings and decisions. The situation grew so intense that Obama held a dinner for the women on his team in November 2009 in order to assure them that he valued their work.
At the dinner, the book reveals that the women aired their complaints directly to the President. Many of the women in the book say the President offered them “empowering” words at the table.
“There were some issues early on with women feeling as though they hadn’t figured out what their role was going to be on the senior team at the White House,” senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said in an interview Monday to The Washington Post. “Most of the women hadn’t worked on the campaign, and so they didn’t have a personal relationship with the president.”
Tensions didn’t stem just from having little face time with the President, however. According to Suskin, many top female officials felt harassed. Christina Romer, a former economic advisor to President Barack Obama who, reportedly told Suskin that the atmosphere at the White House made her feel “like a piece of meat.”
The women recount that at the dinner the President listened intently to what they had to say. According to one account, however, the President failed to turn his comforting words into action. One top official is recorded as saying, “the president initially discounted the complaints he heard that women, particularly on his economic team, were making. He saw the tough climate as just that - the intense atmosphere of a White House, fostered by competitive people at the top of their game.”
Since the book’s release, however, many of the women have claimed that their quotes were taken out of context. Former communications director Anita Dunn claimed that her quote was made up all together. In the book, Dunn is quoted to say that the White House “would be in court for a hostile workplace… Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women.’”
According to Suskind, her denial is a part of a damage control plan that the White House is rolling out. In order to save his credibility, Suskind released the audio tapes of his interview with Dunn. On the tapes, according to The Washington Post, the quote is correct, word-for-word.
The fact that the administration is made up of mostly males is nothing too surprising. Most campaigns and political operations across the country are run by men. Therefore, it may be natural that footballs are tossed during staff meetings or rough language exchanged, as one account in the book describes.
But that’s besides the point, according to David Almasi, executive director of the National Center for Public Policy Research.
“Every president has a duty and privilege to hire the best people for the job,” he said. “Regardless of race, gender, religion, etc., he should be getting the best people. Just because numerically women don’t represent as much of the staff as men do, it doesn’t matter.”
He added, “The real problem is with the treatment. Women are saying they aren’t getting a fair shake once they enter the White House. Everyone that’s hired should be on equal footing with other people of their own caliber regardless of gender.”
The book is based on more than 700 hours of interviews, including one with Obama and other top officials.