In the past week, President Obama has received a lot of unwelcome press. As you've surely heard, at a recent fundraiser, he jokingly introduced California's Kamal Harris as "by far the best-looking attorney general in the country."
Was this a compliment? Was it an example of sexist marginalization? Or maybe a bit of both?
You know what I think?
Who cares. Please. Move along.
If you regularly read Lovin' the Alien, you all know that I am a big old feminist with a capital F. And, I'm thoroughly unashamed to admit it. But, this seems a little silly. Isn't there some real news, people?
Harris is attractive. Period. And, Obama was introducing her at a social event, not urging people to vote for her or approve her nomination. I truly don't believe he was belittling her. He could have said the same thing about a good-looking male colleague. In fact, five years ago, the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlusconi called Obama himself "young" and "handsome" (and, "suntanned" too, um ... okay ... that's a different story).
Clearly, the president desperately needs some gender sensitivity training. Not. I think we're taking political correctness a bit too far. Whether you agree with his healthcare reform or his take on taxing the one percent, President Obama is not a male chauvinist. In fact, the irony here is that Obama has appointed a record number of women judges, with two at the Supreme Court level, including my elementary school classmate Elena Kagan.
Truth is, how people look matters. (To many voters, regardless of his policies, Mitt Romney looked like a president should look — whatever that means. Tall, white, and male, I guess.) By and large, better-looking candidates do better. So do better-looking celebrities and better-looking business executives. Not fair, but not not true.
And what's true for people is especially true for female people.
As the mother of a teenage daughter, I am hyper-vigilant when it comes to girls judged by their beauty rather than their brains. But, it's a losing battle. Try to teach teens that appearances can be at worst deceiving and at best irrelevant, and they will look at you like you have two heads. After all, they're not blind. Whether it's a table of perky cheerleaders in the cafeteria or a class clown whose boyish charm helps him get away with disruptive antics in geometry, there are countless examples in high school. Better-looking gets treated ... well ... better.
And, unfortunately, teen girls can be their own worst enemies.
I just read a story in The Washington Post about a current social media phenomenon, called "beauty pageants." (I would say a "new" phenomenon, but that would only prove how completely out of touch I am; it's probably been going on for a while. Like most middle-aged moms, I'm hopelessly behind the times when it comes to what's hot and what's not with my fifteen-year old and her cohorts.)
Basically, an anonymous "pageant host" sets up the contest and girls post self-portraits ("selfies") using the smartphone app Instagram. Then, any of Instagram's estimated 100 million users can give the girl a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down (comments can be a lot more specific and a whole lot more hateful). Enough negative feedback and the girl is — publicly — disqualified.
Let's consider for a moment how many levels of wrong we have here ...
Who is this anonymous host: a group of beer-buzzed fraternity brothers, a particularly competitive queen bee, or your average everyday pedophile?
When sexier photos are rewarded with higher rankings, how are other contestants (many of whom are underage) being encouraged to behave?
How do the nasty comments and insults affect the self-esteem of teen and preteen girls, for whom — let's face it — self-esteem is a tricky business to begin with?
And, what are people (100 million of them, remember) doing with the pictures now that they're out there?
Here's what worries me most, I think. Where do teenage girls find a safe haven anymore? Back in those rose-colored good ole days, you could compartmentalize and protect yourself. Yes, you might be teased at school because you had braces or acne or a few extra pounds, but you could escape it when you got home. Now, our girls are always connected. All media, all the time. And with their mobile phones virtually grafted to their bodies, they can't get away from it. Ever.
We are also raising our teens in a world of unprecedented exhibitionism. They don't think about the repercussions, they just shoot and post. I would never (never never never never) put a picture of myself up on a "Nifty Fifty" beauty pageant, if I could even find such a thing. But, it's second nature to them. It's beyond second nature. Through a combined force of peer pressure and the itchy fingers urgency of mobile media, girls are compelled to participate. "Look at me," they're saying. "Validate me. Tell me I'm beautiful." Too often, the result is just the opposite.
Because, at the end of the day, these girls are looking for love in all the wrong places.