The XX Factor

Is Being Able To Dunk the New Glass Ceiling?

Like you, Emily , I thought the NYT piece on the President Obama’s all-male basketball game hit just the right note in capturing the nuance of questions about the president’s inner circle and whether it’s too male-dominated. While it is important for women to have access to all-male clubs at the workplace in terms of inclusion and having input when big decisions are made, I don’t believe the women staffers at the White House have to be in on the basketball games in order to, well, be in. There are other ways to ensure they get a seat at the table. By pointedly asking for a seat at the table, for instance, or pointing out when necessary that there aren’t enough, or any women, at the table. Sounds a bit simple, I know, but it’s doubtful that the women occupying high-profile jobs in the Obama administration are shrinking violets who would sit by quietly while the alpha males rolled over them.

U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice? I don’t think so. Melody Barnes, Obama’s chief domestic-policy advisor, or Mona Sutphen, his deputy chief of staff? Not likely. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton? Oh, please, who can forget her toughness on the campaign trail. These smart and able women got where they are through hard work (and yes, having the right connections, too), but they also had to have the self-confidence to know that they could play with the big boys, and I’m not talking about shooting hoops or traipsing the greens. They managed to negotiate, bypass, and overcome the restrictions and obstacles sometimes purposely put in front of them, and do just fine. They likely did this without having had to dunk basketballs with their male peers.

Maybe Obama is a more comfortable around his male staffers, but this doesn’t mean he’s uncomfortable around his female staffers. The woman he often refers to as the “love of my life” is, by many accounts, an equal partner in their marriage and a strong, independent-minded individual. Men who marry strong women don’t tend to lean toward sexism, and men who do lean toward sexim don’t tend to hire strong women. I understand that the NYT article was touching more on subtle perceptions of women being shut out than outright exclusion of women, but I don’t know that it’s fair to hang those perceptions on a harmless basketball game.

If Hillary Clinton had become president, would we be worrying about men in the White House feeling shut out by the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pansuits ? Probably not. I’d be among the first calling on these men to get over themselves.

I know sexism in the workplace is a very serious issue and I’m not trying to make light of it, but sometimes we have to see a basketball game for what it is-a simple basketball game. I’ve never believed that I had to play sports or be on men’s teams, or pretend I even understood, much less cared about, the finer rules of basketball, baseball, football, hockey, etc., to be considered part of the team. And let’s be honest, how many of us, unless we happen to have played for the WNBA, would really want to spend a Saturday afternoon hooping it up with a bunch of sweaty, aggressively competitive, wonky men-even if one of them were the POTUS? All the chest-bumping, trash-talking, butt-slapping, elbow-throwing, and in your-face-dunking that is part of the game would come to a screeching halt in a co-ed game, making it less fun for the men and less real for the women if the men went out of their way not to touch, bump into, or otherwise injure us physically, or offend our “delicate” feminine sensibilities.

If some people are wondering whether the guys playing with Obama aren’t “atremble ” about possibly beating the boss and making him look bad, imagine how they would feel beating a bunch of women. Or worse, getting beaten by a bunch of women.

Photograph of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images.