If Bill Clinton was our first black president, as Toni Morrison once proclaimed, then Barack Obama may be our first woman president.
Phew. That was fun. Now, if you’ll just keep those hatchets holstered and hear me out.
No, I’m not calling Obama a girlie president. But . . . he may be suffering a rhetorical-testosterone deficit when it comes to dealing with crises, with which he has been richly endowed.
It isn’t that he isn’t “cowboy” enough, as others have suggested. Aren’t we done with that? It is that his approach is feminine in a normative sense. That is, we perceive and appraise him according to cultural expectations, and he’s not exactly causing anxiety in Alpha-maledom.
We’ve come a long way gender-wise. Not so long ago, women would be censured for speaking or writing in public. But cultural expectations are stickier and sludgier than oil. Our enlightened human selves may want to eliminate gender norms, but our lizard brains have a different agenda.
Women, inarguably, still are punished for failing to adhere to gender norms by acting “too masculine” or “not feminine enough.” In her fascinating study about “Hating Hillary,” Karlyn Kohrs Campbell details the ways our former first lady was chastised for the sin of talking like a lawyer and, by extension, “like a man.”
Could it be that Obama is suffering from the inverse?
When Morrison wrote in the New Yorker about Bill Clinton’s “blackness,” she cited the characteristics he shared with the African American community:
“Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald’s-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas.”
If we accept that premise, even if unseriously proffered, then we could say that Obama displays many tropes of femaleness. I say this in the nicest possible way. I don’t think that doing things a woman’s way is evidence of deficiency but, rather, suggests an evolutionary achievement.
Obama is a chatterbox who makes Alan Alda look like Genghis Khan.
The masculine-coded context of the Oval Office poses special challenges, further exacerbated by a crisis that demands decisive action. It would appear that Obama tests Campbell’s argument that “nothing prevents” men from appropriating women’s style without negative consequences.
Indeed, negative reaction to Obama’s speech suggests the opposite. Obama may prove to be our first male president who pays a political price for acting too much like a woman.
And he throws like a girl to boot.