Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

One of those "Oh, now I get it" moments

We’ve all had those moments when something finally becomes clear. I had one of those tonight while reading a NY Times article about the Obamas’ marriage. I’ve only read a couple of pages. It’s pretty good, so far. But, that’s not what I wanted to talk about.

One of my many blind spots is caused by my being who and what I am – a middle-aged nearly-senior, middle-aged, white male. That blind spot makes it hard to see what all of the fuss is about when it comes to the whole gender bias issue.

That’s not to say that I don’t get gender bias. I know it is a male dominated world. I also know that automatically creates gender bias in many situations. I say I know, but what I really mean is that I know in a very hazy, never-happened-to-me kind of way. That may be why I missed the significance of what played out recently over the President’s choice of golfing and basketball partners.

When that story first hit the news cycle, I read a couple of articles about it and read a few comments and then tuned it out. As far as I was concerned, it was way over-blown.

That’s the last I thought about it until a few minutes ago when I read this sentence in that NY Times article I mentioned – “This summer, the first lady surprised her husband for his birthday by gathering his old basketball buddies for a weekend at Camp David.”

Reading that reminded me of golfing-gate (sorry, couldn’t resist). My first thought was a rather sardonic, “Guess they’ll blame that one on Michelle.”

My second thought was a more serious, “What was that all about?

When first confronted with a complaint like this, most guys will react the same way I did. Something along the lines of, “What’s all the fuss about?” Very few sports are co-ed at any level. Boys play with and against other boys. Girls play against girls. There are a few girls who play on varsity boys’ teams, but the vast majority of boys and girls play on single-sex teams once they are out of grade school. Men and women don’t play against each other at a college or professional level. Why should the White House be any different?

That’s when it dawned on me that there is one very good reason why it matters.

The biggest obstacle women face on a professional level is the old boy network. Events like a basketball game or a golf outing give the participants a feeling of camaraderie. The President is going to look a little more fondly on the person who set him up for the winning shot than he is going to look at a person who he only sees during working hours.

Each person the President spends time with in some enjoyable pursuit is going to have an easier time selling his/her ideas. If my boss is asking for my opinion on something then I’d sure like to have him thinking of that putt I dropped yesterday to seal the win for our team.

There’s also the matter of status. Those who play sports with the President are part of a special group. They get to have a closer relationship with the President. That kind of sucks if you happen to be a woman and women never get invited.

That is enough to convince me that this wasn’t such a silly story, after all. I’m glad the story came out and I’m glad the White House acted on it. Women are the majority in this country. They are a larger majority of Democratic voters. We need more women involved in all levels of government. Practices like the ones that led to this story only serve to perpetuate the old boy network.

Now back to that ten-page article.


  1. If the presidential pass-time was checkers, that’s easy, and golf isn’t as bad as basketball – but can you see Madeleine Albright (for example) shooting hoops?   Some folks (myself included) just couldn’t even pretend to hold a spot on the court with Obama and his buddies, it’s just a fact of physics and experience (and did I mention physics?).

  2. Jjc2008

    I experienced it.  Not exactly. But close enough.  When I got my MA in Tech Ed (1986), I was with a small group of females.  This is unusual because often the men were the minority in most education course work.  Here was the obvious difference I observed. OBSERVATION here; not research.

    Women seem to be nurturers.   So in classes where there were one or two males, the women reached out to them; included them; helped them.  The converse was not true.   In the male dominated tech classes (remember this was in 1986), the men took over, dominated the conversation.  I was the odd one, competing with the men, and often frustrated when the male professors chose to, on break,  talk and joke with the men only.   When the women, some who had been trained to be intimidated by “guy” stuff like computers but were there for their jobs, needed help, I reached out, none of the guys  did.

    In 1991, I was the only female member of our district’s tech committee.  I don’t know how to explain it, but it was a boys’ club, and I was the infiltrator.  It’s how I felt.  I had to be “pushy” to be heard; I had to be “bitchy” to make sure the women we were training in classes were not treated as if they were “stupid.”  More than a few took my classes and thanked me for not making them feel bad about themselves.  A lot of the people we trained were not teachers, but paraprofessionals learning a new technology in order to keep their jobs.  

    I do believe things have gotten better. But we are not even close to being there.  I love to play golf, and when I used go and play by myself, I sometimes ended up being put in with three men to make a foursome.  I could almost see them rolling their eyes at the notion of having to allow me in their group.   I could hold my own with them, and that usually shocked them. But most time, it did not matter.  

    Sports, the “club” settings always gave men an advantage in the business world.  That, to me, was always obvious.  Many women have fought to change that.  That part was not a problem for me as I was not in the business world.  But the boys club mentality is bad enough.   Even when the lone woman gets invited in, I suspect that like me, you spend a lot of energy just proving you have a right to be there and less on enjoying and taking advantage of the camaraderie of the sport and building the relationship.

    Just a point of view from my life.

  3. HappyinVT

    One is whether women have access to the president.  The other, which is the one I think has gotten the most attention, is what does this show about Obama’s attitude toward women.  Remember “sweetie-gate?”  I have really seen nothing that would lead me to believe that he has anything less than the utmost respect for women.

    The issue as to access and influence is more difficult.  I certainly don’t think the president should be forced to play with certain people in order to meet some kind of gender requirement.

    I would like to think there are multiple venues for people to interact and bond with the president.  We have seen any number of different events at the White House that, while perhaps not the same as basketball or golf, allow for interaction.

    Finally, it is interesting that, yet again, this president is being held to a different standard than his predecessors.  Who did Bush Jr. golf with?  I’m quite sure there wasn’t a woman to be found on that course (unless she was driving the beer cart.)  I don’t want to talk about Bill’s interaction with women ’cause we know that he ran into trouble on a few occasions during his political career with that.  Perhaps this is the price Obama pays for being more out in the open with his activities.

  4. louisprandtl

    hundred folks with both civilians and folks in uniforms present. Out of a hundred, at various times, number of women in attendance were probably two to three. At a more general conference with higher attendance from academia, I’ve seen that number go upto 5%-7%….

    I think I also “get it” to understand a bit too..

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