Obama and His Boys’ Club

I just finished reading Kathleen Parker’s piece in the WPOST today about the hot water President Obama has gotten himself into with his basketball games that are men only. I find a great deal of what Parker says compelling especially when she states…

Obama’s basketball game, thus, has become a convenient metaphor for an inconvenient truth. Generally speaking, guys prefer to play ball with other guys, just as women prefer to form book clubs with other women. That’s not because women don’t like men (and vice versa) but because when relaxing, women mostly want to drink wine together. And talk about men. I don’t know what men do on the basketball court that is so compelling, but they apparently need it, and I don’t.

On the other hand,  I also find it frustrating being a professional woman and not having the same access as male colleagues. I experienced this a bit myself a number of years ago when my husband was playing a weekly basketball game in Washington DC. Many of the men he played with were journalists and every now and then an occassional Congressman or Senator would play with them. I was so jealous the day he came home and had played ball with Bill Bradley! And, while he no longer plays with the same guys I just bumped into a friend who told me David Axelrod drops by the game every now and then. For my husband this means nothing. For me, a consultant working in DC having that kind of opportunity to just introduce myself to Axelrod would be amazing.

So while I don’t want to fault the president for his guy-only games, I am a bit frustrated (and some days angry) that it is still much harder for women to gain access to people of power than it is for men. Perhaps, Parker offers the best advice in her piece:

…women peeved by the president’s perceived masculine insularity might benefit from my father’s advice when, as a young girl, I complained about life’s unfairness. “Don’t complain about the game,” he said. “Learn the game and play it better.” There’s more than one way to score a point, in other words, and history has never suggested women are unclever.

I just wish I could figure out what game that would be. What do the MTs think?


25 thoughts on “Obama and His Boys’ Club

  1. I saw this story in the New York Times

    I don’t know, I guess I just question whether women in the White House truly have less access because they aren’t participating in these games. Do they really have no other opportunities to casually interact with POTUS or the men who are playing? And how much business gets discussed?

    I feel like there’s some expectation that men should never want to hang out with just men. As you mention in your post, I don’t necessarily want men around all the time. As an example – I often really enjoy my yoga classes when the teacher and all other students are female. It just has a different vibe.

    • That’s a good point..

      ..about other access. I think that we run the risk of saying that Obama can’t have any time off from being the President if he has to be inclusive in absolutely everything he does. He ought to be able to play basketball with whoever the heck he wants, and while I’m sure it does offer some opportunity for networking (but how much? I can’t imagine complex policy being discussed in that environment) it’s more important that he be able to relax and not think about being President in a place he feels comfortable, and if that’s an exclusively male situation, so be it.
      That said, I’ve never really understood anyone’s need for any gender segregated activity. I wonder if any women have even asked if they can take part, and if they did what his answer would be? I often wonder the same thing about the book clubs you mention, in part because I remember reading an article a few years back where a SAHD, the only one in his neighborhood, asked the SAHMs he met at the park whether he could take part in theirs, and was told in no uncertain terms he was Not Welcome. IIRC, the conclusion of that story was that he went back to work because he was excluded from the social support the SAHMs he met had in other SAHMs. That story bothered me, profoundly, and when I read anything where people are taking part in activities with individuals solely of one sex, it bothers me.

      • what I’ve learned

        from professional women who felt locked out of golf games, for example, is that business may not be discussed explicitly. The value of the games is getting to know people in a different way, ostensibly under less pressure. You may not have thought about buying business insurance from someone in your foursome, but after doing 18 holes with him you feel friendlier and more open to the idea. And I think sometimes people play all out at these things, and their competitiveness or skill is recognized and respected.

      • Gene Weingarten’s analysis

        of the situation said, “The difference between playing basketball with the guys and golf with the guys is that golf involves a lot of standing around talking and basketball involves a lot of running around and grunting, and in basketball there’s no nineteenth hole.”

        I’m sure that if Obama had any female friends who are good enough to keep up with him in basketball, he’d be happy to play with them. And he did become the first president to play golf with a woman over the weekend.

  2. If all major policy decision are made on the

    court, that is one thing, but to me it sounds like a time when the President is blowing off steam? Maybe I am reading that all wrong. But if my husband goes out fishing with his guy friends who happen to be his co-workers and colleagues (as he does sometimes) do I see that as sexist if they do not take their female counterparts? No. I really don’t.

    • I would say it’s an advantage

      to have regular social contact with the boss in a way that female colleagues can’t have. I have no idea who’s the boss where your husband works, but I would think female colleagues who never get to participate in such outings would be at a disadvantage when decisions are made about raises, promotions, etc.

      • Yeah, sure

        but when everyone goes out for drinks on a weeknight, its my husband who is excluded as he does not drink. I think as long as there is equal access… also, in hubby’s situation women are not excluded, they choose not to go. Like he chooses not to go out for drinks. I think if Obama is saying “No Girls Allowed” that is wrong, but I doubt he is. Didn’t he play ball with some female college players just a few weeks ago?

  3. I wonder…

    I was wondering the same thing Expat said.

    I wonder if any women have even asked if they can take part, and if they did what his answer would be?

    I was imagining myself in this situation.  I’m not terribly tall and honestly it would not be much fun for me to play basketball with a bunch of guys who were 8-10 inches taller than me.  I wonder if anybody has asked and been refused?  I might miss the fun but just because of my size I doubt I would want to join in.

    • And I don’t think this is really a just-for-fun

      sort of game. I mean, by all accounts, Obama plays pretty seriously, and he’s good at it.

      I’m reasonably good at basketball for an average-sized woman with average-at-best athletic skill, and I would totally love to play a game with Obama just for fun, but I’m not good enough to play really seriously.

  4. No big deal…

    I’ll preface this by saying I’m feeling a wee bit cranky today….

    But for god’s sake, can the man not even play basketball without being criticized for it? Seriously….

    • that’s what I thought

      he’s playing basketball, for pete’s sake!

      I mean, my DH plays tennis, just with other men. I go walking every morning, just with other women, and I’m in an all-women book club.

      I’m sure if there were women playing basketball with him, it would be “oh, what does Michelle think about him playing with these women?” or “what else is going on in the locker room?” or whatever.

      sometimes it seems he can’t win.

      • My thoughts, too

        I would bet that there would be SOME issue that came out of him playing  basketball with women. It seems to me that it’s a way for him to unwind, and that’s the easiest way to keep the game uncomplicated. He doesn’t have to worry about people speculating why he’s so friendly to a woman on the court, or about rough contact during the game.

    • DITTO

      Hot water? He’s in hot water for playing basketball with other men? This is the first I have even heard of this non-issue.

      I swear, next he’ll be criticized for the way he puts the toilet paper in the dispenser (or for gasp not doing it at all!).

      Oy. Vey.

      I was in an all-women’s book club. I took belly dance classes with nothing but women. I enjoy the occasional girls’ night out.

      Don’t see why the man can’t enjoy the same on occasion.

  5. little bit of column a, little bit of column b

    I can understand some of the frustration. As a financial journalist, I work in an environment where the majority (slim, but still majority) of sources are men, particularly as you climb the corporate ladder. A lot of scoops and big stories are developed/transmitted because of friendship or during casual conversation/gossip. I know that I am locked out of developing a lot of those kinds of relationships because I don’t get to play the game – going out for drinks at pubs, doing whatever it is that blokey Australians do. It’s a slight disadvantage, but to quote the above, if you’re worth your salt you “learn the game and play it better.”

    But man, the majority of me says Jebus, let the man play his b-ball in peace. He can’t win for losing, ya know?!

    • Agree

      This is exactly how I feel and why i posted the story. I think he should play b-ball and be left alone. But i have to disagree with other folks who say the access is no big deal. I agree on it being ok if one chooses an all woman bookclub or all guys night out. But this situation is different because he is the president and he is working 24/7 and decisions are being made all the time.  

      Also he did go golfing with Melody Barnes, a WH staffer, the other day as someone pointed out.  

      • access is so tricky

        it’s so hard to quantify and explain why it’s a big deal, isn’t it? But it is. And it works both ways. I have a good network of women in the financial industry here  – a lot of them are mothers, either with kids of a similar age or grown children and I admit, because I feel a kinship with them, there are certain latitudes granted. I hear a lot more from them. Sometimes it’s really juicy “off the record” stuff that leads to big stories, sometimes it’s just 15 or 20 minutes explaining market functions to me. And vice versa I’ll give them time of day to tell them things that I’m hearing – things I don’t get to write about, impressions I have, just plain gossip about what someone said. And these are conversations I’d never have with male sources.

    • Yeah…

      I work with all men. They do invite me out to the pub, and I do go…not because I want to hang out with them particularly, but because not going is risking being the odd one out, and missing out on valuable social connection time…which is critically important. If they were playing basketball every day at lunch, I would expect them to at least show me the courtesy of asking if I’d like to join in. No way would I do it….seeing me play basketball would NOT do my professional image any good whatsoever (I’m seriously bad). But  not being asked and standing on the sidelines wouldn’t feel good.

      However, I would assume that Obama has more than one woman working for him. And I suspect that there are plenty of social situations that everyone is included in. As long as it’s not a completely exclusionary thing…let the man go and sweat with a big orange ball if he needs to. Personally, I don’t really want to see my boss all sweaty and smelly and in tight shorts. No thanks.

    • fo sho

      When I saw the FRONT PAGE NYT article I couldn’t help rolling my eyes.  Really? This is the best dirt you can dig up on the guy? My second thought was that I wish George Bush had had some productive outlets while he was in the WH. I’m afraid Bible study and bombing folks didn’t meet his needs as well as they could have.

      • yeah, no kidding

        and it’s kind of indicative of the man, isn’t it? Dubya preferred running and mountain biking – solo activities. Obama plays a team sport. OK, it’s a bit of armchair psychologizin’, but I think it’s cool that Obama’s preferred means of exercise and destressing is an activity that requires cooperation and playing well with others!

  6. Oh for Pete’s sake.

    Get healthcare, Afghanistan, Iraq, DADT, and education worked out, then come to me with this.

    Seriously.  The guy’s playing BALL.  


  7. I have to wonder

    If not basketball, is there anything he could do with just guys that would be okay?  Basketball is not at all conducive to even getting to know people.  My husband used to play weekly with a group, he’s not close to any of them at all.  They just play.
    If I was suddenly not allowed to do anything with just the girls I would be beyond pissed and for good reason.

  8. i read the article…

    and frankly wanted to find a way to strangle the writer.  this from a woman who has been in business dominated by men for over 30 years.  i don’t golf…hate the game and refused to learn just to join the boys.

    give obama a break…it’s not like he’s been dismissive of women. forgive me but i thought that article was trite.

  9. at least he’s not going to strip clubs


    maybe women who don’t play basketball and feel excluded could hang out w/ him during his cigarette breaks?

    i can’t play basketball- it would be humiliating.  but i used to be very good at smoking cigarettes.

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