In the News
Hands Off Hillary
Sometimes a joke is not a joke
-Mary Dixie Carter
By now, you’ve probably seen the photos of Obama’s 27-year-old speechwriter, Jon Favreau, circulating on the Web. Standing next to a life-size cutout of Hillary Clinton, Favreau is copping a feel, while his friend (on the other side of the Clinton image) tips a bottle of beer to her lips. Funny, or not funny?
As women, we don’t want to be labeled angry feminists who can’t take a joke. So many of us, myself included, do our best to give others the benefit of the doubt, even when a joke is offensive.
But, if someone with a high-profile job, like Favreau, appeared in a photograph mocking African-Americans or Jews or Muslims, few people would think it was funny, and those who did would know enough to keep quiet. In truth, Favreau never would have made the equivalent joke about Blacks or Jews.
Sexism and racism are very different. Racism often has to do with fear of “the other,” whatever is foreign to us. Rarely does sexism have to do with fear of “the other.” And because women are so very familiar, men and women often don’t feel the need to monitor themselves so carefully or examine their attitudes with sensitivity. Jon Favreau probably believes that he has great respect for women. For a man who considers himself liberal and enlightened, it’s alright to mock women because he doesn’t mean it. There’s nothing malicious or substantive behind the joke. He is just being silly.
The Clinton camp didn’t help matters with its light-hearted, witty response. “Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon’s obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application,” said Clinton advisor Philippe Reines.
Hillary Clinton sometimes comes across as lacking a sense of humor. So I completely understand why she went along with this “harmless” joke. But the fact is Clinton is a role model for many women, young and old. She owes it to them to draw a hard line in the sand and speak out on their behalf when someone – even a future colleague – crosses it.