Recently, U.S. President Barack Obama paid a compliment to political colleague and personal friend California Attorney General Kamala Harris, which included a mention of her as being “good looking.” A lot of people got upset about it, and a lot of others rushed to the Prez’s defense with remarks such as: “it was just a compliment, for crying out loud.”
Admittedly, being of open mind with matters concerning absurd public formalities, while also generally given to supporting Obama on most things, I had to question my own reaction of outrage at the whole affair. Why does it make me so angry that he has the freedom to say this? Is it because it’s BAD to have a moment of human admission and praise somebody’s appearance, particularly if that person is a long-time friend and colleague? I mean, it’s not like he didn’t say that she’s brilliant and all that other stuff before mentioning her appearance… My conclusion is that basically, the compliment wasn’t so bad, given the context of their relationship and the fact that she really IS brilliant, tough, and… well yes, admittedly, in my humble opinion: beautiful. Complimenting someone’s good looks is not a bad thing, in and of itself, unless…
…the person paying the compliment is a Female political figure and the Media gets to interpret her comment.
Let’s just let our imaginations run wild with the potential headlines we might be reading if Kamala Harris had complimented Barack Obama on his good looks in the same tone that he used to compliment hers.
“Kamala Harris Makes Indirect Pass at President”
“Kamala Harris Thinks President is Hot Stuff”
“Kamala Harris Flirts Shamelessly With President in Public Forum”
“Does Kamala Harris Realize that Barack Obama is Married?”
“Kamala vs Michelle: President Has His Choice of Women”
“Kamala Harris Blurts Out That She’s Hot for the President”
“Kamala Harris Proves that Women Cannot Keep Their Minds on Business”
“Kamala Harris Mixes Business With Pleasure”
“Kamala Harris Admits She’s Attracted to President Obama”
“What’s Behind Kamala Harris’ Compliment to the President?”
What a heyday the Media would have with it all! It could roll for weeks. We’d read repeatedly that the Attorney General is single, with descriptions of her failed relationships and insinuations about her long-standing friendship with the Prez. Some articles might even speculate a possible rivalry between the Attorney General and the First Lady, backing up the assertion with twisted half-truths, leading suggestions, and, on tabloid covers, strategic photographs of the two women Photoshopped with scowls on faces to insinuate animosity. Other journalists would launch into sexy descriptions of Kamala’s choices in clothes, shoes, perfume, and makeup, with speculations on whether or not her body language and manner of dress could be described as “coquettish” on occasions where she has been seen in public with the President. There would be discussion of her entire dating history, questioning and subtle judgment of her social and/or romantic behavior, and probably even an underhanded suggestion that she might in fact be a Lesbian. Harris’ family members would be interviewed to provide lame comments such as “She probably meant it platonically” as evidence of the weak argument being made in her defense. In short, she’d be professionally crucified in a matter of minutes and Media ratings would rise like mercury in a thermometer dipped into molten lava.
In a few day’s time, Harris’ public image would have been smeared, ripped apart, taken down, and dismembered. From that point forward, Kamala Harris would never again be taken seriously as a professional or politician, but instead she would go down in history ubiquitously as “the girl who came on to the President” and blew her career in the process. Maybe I’ve seen too much Telemundo, but I’m certain that the subtext would go something like a telenovela: beautiful, successful politician on the outside, desperate, wanton female on the inside, and guess which aspect will win and, in the end, sink her?
Considering all of the above, and the fact that, though it may read as hilarious, it’s not far at all from the truth of slut-shame media practices, I honestly wish that the President had kept his mouth shut, or complimented his buddy in private, where none of us could catch the slick note of entitlement that he and other men enjoy: that freedom of personal expression that women still don’t have a right to.
On the day when Kamala Harris can pay Barack Obama a similar compliment in public, and have it not cost her career, reputation, and image as a moral/immoral female, I will agree that it was “just a compliment.” In the meantime, though I realize that the President apologized, I can’t help but perceive his comment as an irritating, off-color faux pas at best; at worst, a blatant wielding of patriarchal privilege and a bristling example of yet one more human right that women still lack in the 21st Century, and men take totally for granted.