7th 2008
Your thoughts, dear readers?

Posted under: American history, Gender, the body, women's history


This is a photograph of Barack Obama’s 27-year old chief speechwriter Jon Favreau mock-groping the breast of a Hillary Clinton cardboard cutout, while another “Obama Staff” member mock-nuzzles its ear.  It’s been a hot topic on some feminist political blogs this weekend–see for example the threads at Corrente, Shakesville, and now Talk Left.  (The original source of the story appears to be this posting at the Washington Post blog “44.”Susie at Suburban Guerrilla offers some interesting thoughts on the context of this behavior–she says that it’s testosterone and alcohol that fuel most local, state, and national political campaigns, and so she is unsurprised to see Favreau & company behaving like this.  

Most commenters on the aforementioned blogs see this photograph as confirmation of a disturbing misogynist frat party culture they see in the culture at large and saw in the Obama campaign all along, built around male privilege and the objectification and subordination of women.  Some commenters agree that the photograph (and behavior it documents) is objectionable, but hey, it would be ridiculous to trash a young man’s career for a foolish prank.  (File this one under “social networking sites can be professional suicide,” all you twentysomethings!)

What do you think?

UPDATE, 12/7/08, 3:30 P.M. MST:  This squib at CNN (posted yesterday) suggests that the photo was on Favreau’s Facebook account, because after using the passive voice to say that the photo “appeared on Facebook Friday,” it then states that “the picture was reportedly up for a scant two hours or so before Favreau removed it, along with every other picture of himself beyond his profile photo.”  So if he removed it, presumably he was the person who posted it, unless there are other people he has permitted to post things to his account.  This article also says that the photo was taken “at a recent party,” which is rather odd.  Did they think that they were campaigning to defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election?  She campaigned her heart out for Obama, so that level of hostility and need to express sexual dominance strikes me as extremely strange.  Does anyone else think that this guy should keep his job now?


84 Responses to “Your thoughts, dear readers?”

  1. Buzz on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:08 am #

    While this is uncouth, I can’t see it as being sexist. I say this because I can’t imagine a male cardboard cutout (of, say, John McCain) in a similar situation being treated any better. If you’re drunk, and there’s a life-size cardboard cutout of somebody you don’t like around, there’s a natural tendency to do something rude to the cutout. Generally, this means posing it in a sexually demeaning situation, and (based on my real by limited observational experience) a male figure would probably be subjected to worse treatment in this regard than this female one is. If you look hard enough, there’s probably a picture of a two-dimensional John McCain being butt-humped by a group of democratic staffers. (However, Erica insists that we don’t look.)

  2. Notorious Ph.D. on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:10 am #

    I think my stomach just rolled over. I feel betrayed.

  3. Notorious Ph.D. on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:13 am #

    (Explanation for the above visceral reaction: this is my reaction to frat-boy sexism in what is supposed to be the “adult” world any time. I would like to think that there is a degree of age and/or accomplishment that will get me past the barrier of being seen as a life-support system for a pair of boobs, but then I see things like this, and I fear it will never happen.)

  4. Erica on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:31 am #

    @Historiann — He’s not “nuzzling” her ear. He’s “sticking his tongue” in it.

    @Notorious — I know the feeling. And then these same “adults” want to be treated like responsible, reasonable people…

    The staffer deserves to be called out for acting like an asshat. If he finds this unfair, perhaps he shouldn’t have acted like an asshat in the first place — or at least had the common sense to not let his asshattery be photographed (which should be a sign to any responsible, reasonable person that perhaps they shouldn’t be acting like an asshat in the first place).

  5. hysperia on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:41 am #

    I don’t care how many billions of guys his age participate in this kind of degradation of women. I don’t care how many millions of women might do the something similar to cardboard cutouts of Barack Obama in their sorority houses (HA! not so many, I bet). It’s just not ok. Someone who is going to be in the position that Jon Favreau will be on just has to know better. If not, he just doesn’t belong where he is. This is both silly and outrageous at the same time. And for anyone who doesn’t share my view of its sexism, at the very least, it doesn’t speak well of his professionalism and it’s a helluva bad start. He should resign. Or Obama should fire him. I have a son who is 27-years old and I do hope he wouldn’t do something like this but I can tell you that, if he did, I wouldn’t be the only woman in his life who would have him in stocks and on exhibition in the public square.

    Some people are critisizing Clinton for her response, which was “not much”. I don’t know what people think she’s supposed to do with that.

  6. hysperia on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:43 am #

    Does anyone really think it was an ACCIDENT that this cutout was standing around where these boys were having their drinking party?

  7. Jeremy Young on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:16 am #

    As an Obama supporter, I say…fire his ass.

    I’ve been around some high-pitched political campaigns, and know some people who’ve worked on them. Sexism is, sadly, par for the course in the testosterone-charged environment. Groping an image of the opponent is NOT part for the course, even when drunk. Bragging about it when sobered up by posting a photo of it on one’s Facebook — fire his ass.

  8. Erica on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:22 am #

    There’s now also the issue of having this guy on staff with the Secretary of State… Clearly he doesn’t respect her, so how’s he going to get along with her at work?

  9. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:32 am #

    I think Clinton’s respose, which was that his application would be vetted at State, was a joke.

  10. Geoff on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:32 am #

    Looks like this guy was having fun at a party, and it would be unfair to judge him based on this photograph.

    When I was 27 I was walking down a street in Leipzig, Germany with a couple I was visiting. Plastered to a building wall was a life-sized poster of Estella Warren (then a hot young model) posing provocatively in a promotion for a magazine. Maybe it was because I hadn’t been in a relationship for several months, but I approached the poster and did something similar to what Mr. Favreau was doing here, although to be honest I was a little more aggressive and didn’t have any alcohol-related excuse.

    My relationship history is three long term monogamous relationships. But maybe I should be put in stocks in the public square. Maybe I should be called bad names in blogs, if only someone had taken a picture right then and circulated it around. Maybe I should resign my job, or my supervisor at the time should have fired me. Maybe I shouldn’t even be treated as a responsible, reasonable person.

    How do you, Historiann commenters, want to be judged?

  11. Geoff on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:35 am #

    Now, reading some other comments though…if he did post it on his Facebook page as Jeremy said…that is not cool.

  12. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:36 am #

    How interesting that the male commenters (except Jeremy) think that “boys will be boys,” without consequences.

  13. Buzz on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:46 am #

    @Historiann — I didn’t say there shouldn’t be consequences. Whether the culprits should be fired, I don’t feel qualified or informed enough to judge. I do find the behavior offensive, and I wouldn’t want to be personally associated with these people. But I merely wanted to point out that I didn’t think the behavior looked sexist, merely trashy.

  14. Clio Bluestocking on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:48 am #

    Drunk as an excuse? I say “in vino veritas.” Fire their asses. This is wrong from about every level that you can imagine. He should be fired with a statement that this sort of asshole behavior will not be tolerated in the Obama administration.

  15. Roxie on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:56 am #

    They are having some PhotoShop fun w/ this image over at the Confluence, putting Michelle Obama’s and Caroline Kennedy’s heads in place of Senator Clinton’s and asking, “Does it offend you now?” (Go here,, and here,

    Seems like a fair question to me.

  16. Bing McGhandi on 07 Dec 2008 at 11:58 am #

    I wouldn’t want him on my staff if he’s so…not circumspect. Keeping him on suggests a lapse in judgment.

    A few thoughts, however, from someone who has a weenis:

    1) I don’t think that the impulse that causes someone to grope a cutout is the same impulse that leads someone to sexually assault someone. Not in degree nor in kind. If Clinton had been there, nobody would have touched her. Indeed, we know that they would all be kissing her ass ridiculously.

    2) Because of the symbolic nature of politics, I suspect that this act is more grave than, say, a booby-grab at the cutout of a bikini-clad, nubile gal by the beer display. For this reason alone, since politics is so heavily dependant on the perception (rather than the reality that it was a couple of political operatives of the object desecrating an picture of the opponent) they should likely get the chop.

    3) Why are they acting like Republicans? Ba-ZING!


  17. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 12:05 pm #

    OK–sorry Buzz. It’s only Geoff pleading for lenency!

    I think you are correct in your earlier comment that there were probably lots of John McCain cardboard cutouts and images used crudely and subjected to simulated sex acts and abuse by the Obama campaign. However, I would say that that abuse notwithstanding doesn’t prove that the photo above is not sexist. I’ve done some further thinking and reading since my post this morning, so please allow me to explain:

    Groping or fondling a cardboard cutout, whether it’s McCain or Clinton, is a simulation of sexual dominance, which I would argue is very much the expression of male privilege. I don’t care that it is an image of Clinton above–after all, she’s a powerful, prominent woman who is unlikely to be the victim of rape or sexual abuse at this point in her life. What I care about is the notion communicated by this image, which is that that’s what women are for. So, although some commenters on the other blogs are up in arms that once again it’s an image of Clinton that’s being abused, I’m less concerned about that than I am the entitlement and sexual aggression on display.

    Please consider too that this was posted on Facebook–it wasn’t leaked to the media by a disgruntled ex-staffer trying to embarass Favreau. The media accounts are vague as to who posted it–was it on his facebook site or not, it’s unclear. However, someone at that party (if not Favreau himself) decided that this was an image of themselves and of the campaign that pleased him and made him feel proud about their work for Obama.

    Although I agree that male sexual aggression against women in general is very common, that doesn’t make it less obnoxious or offensive. (Or, it shouldn’t.) I think Jeremy is right: if he’s too arrogant to resign, he should be fired. Obama can find another speechwriter. No one is irreplaceable, especially not when they embarass a President (or President-elect.) And leaving aside the whole sexual dominance angle: who can the new WH communications team really afford to retain someone who doesn’t understand digital photography and social networking sites? It’s incompetence, as well as offensive.

    We’ll see what happens. Will Favreau be treated like Samantha Powers, or like Larry Summers, who has been welcomed by the Obama administration? (This story on his “rehabilitation” doesn’t quote any of his detractors, however–it’s a love-letter from those who were his supporters all along.)

  18. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 12:15 pm #

    Clio B. and Jeremy: yes, there are different rules for twentysomethings who want to work in a White House. Life’s not fair, but you can’t have a Facebook page that’s like those of people who aren’t in public service, and there will be different consequences for those who are drunk and behaving badly in public.

    Tough $hite.

    Roxie, thanks for the links. I think the main problem with this image is that since many people think that groping and fondling and using for pleasure is what women are for, so there are limits to substituting other women’s images will do to help make the point that maybe the image in question is inappropriate. Michelle O. and Caroline K. are both women, after all.

    And, Bing: I agree with everything you say except this: “I don’t think that the impulse that causes someone to grope a cutout is the same impulse that leads someone to sexually assault someone.” I think it’s the same sense of entitlement, only as you rightly point out, they are hardly equivalent offenses. Unless and until I see a bunch of photos from women on campaigns groping the packages of cutouts of their male opponents, I think this very much is an expression of sexal aggression and entitlement. It’s about dominance over women in general, I think, and men don’t need to rape women to display that.

  19. lambert strether on 07 Dec 2008 at 12:16 pm #

    Some of the points I’ve seen made:

    1. The other guy’s wearing an Obama-branded shirt. In the corporate world, that would be, at a minimum, grounds for disciplinary action; you don’t trash the brand that way.

    2. The key point is that Favreau has a title; he’s Obama’s chief speechwriter. Since he has a reporting relationship to Obama, that means that whatever Favreau does reflects on Obama.

    3. Clearly, sexism was completely normalized in the Obama campaign, inside and out. Otherwise, how could Favreau not have seen that putting this image on his FaceBook site could pose a problem? He didn’t see the image as a problem, and that is the problem.

    4. If Obama doesn’t hold one of his reports responsible for public behavior like this, that means Obama approves of the behavior. That has obvious implications for the workplace environment in the White House.

  20. grandoc on 07 Dec 2008 at 12:26 pm #

    Just to set the record straight as a pediatrician – a large study from Montreal revealed no, repeat no, correlation between serum testosterone levels and antisocial or criminal behavior in males. Happy Christmas to all Grandoc

  21. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 12:27 pm #

    Hi, Lambert–thanks for stopping by to comment. Yes, thou shalt not trash the brand. That would seem to be the new first commandment for a campaign that was so brilliant at developing and marketing the perfect brand to sell in 2008.

  22. The_Myth on 07 Dec 2008 at 12:55 pm #

    1- I agree with others: it’s a cardboard cut-out, not a live person. To equate the 2 is as stupid as the actual picture…

    2- Oh, that photograph… In the report I read, the photo was published on Facebook, but perhaps not by Favreau himself. So, a “friend” thought it was funny. SOMEONE thought it was funny enough to memorialize for posterity. DUMB-DUMB-DUMB!

    3- Favreau should be fired, or perhaps demoted into a lesser position. This little episode demonstrates a complete lack of judgment in the big-boy adult world. Or, at least it should. Would we want to hear about Dick Cheyney getting plastered and molesting the Bushes’ porcelain statue of a poodle at last year’s New Year’s Eve party? It would be a public humiliation for everyone.

    4- I don’t recall seeing anyone mentioning this little episode was probably fueled by alcohol [reference to frat boy culture?]. *This* is a bigger problem than some people want to admit. Too much insanity goes on nowadays while people are drunk and they think an “Oops! My bad!” is sufficient to excuse the bad behavior…AND IT OFTEN IS! How about real consequences for real lack of judgment?

    5- Why are so few people not concerned that adolescence now extends to age 30??? [I see hints of this in the above comments...] Or was this the current equivalent of the dancing-on-the-coffee-table-wearing-a-lampshade drunken lush story?

    In the end, this photo has little to do with degradation of women. It has more to do with immaturity and a complete lack of judgment by a CHIEF SPEECHWRITER FOR THE PRESIDENT-ELECT. That’s far more humiliating and degrading to me as a citizen.

  23. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 1:15 pm #

    Who here has “equated” fondling a cardboard picture with acutal sexual assault?

    You should click on the link to Susie’s blog above–her post is all about the booze.

  24. The History Enthusiast on 07 Dec 2008 at 1:56 pm #

    Historiann, I agree with you completely. I am so disappointed in my generation (I’m 27), not only for the frat-boy antics (hey, it was the alcohol talking!), but also the fact that Favreau (or one of his friends) sees no problem with objectifying women in this way. It disgusts me.

  25. Geoff on 07 Dec 2008 at 2:10 pm #

    I’m not sure what the offense here is that deserves consequences. Mr. Favreau, at a private party, had his picture taken with his hand on the breast of a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. While in the presence of a camera. (Off topic, but if Ms. Clinton can remain married to man who has had multiple affairs, I’m sure she can work with this guy.)

    Back to the offense. At a party he put his hand in a groping manner on a cardboard cut out of Hillary Clinton. That’s it. We don’t know what was in his mind at the time. One can see this as an expression of sexual dominance, but it remains an interpretation. There’s no way to prove that it is or isn’t an expression of sexual dominance, and Mr. Favreau is innocent until proven guilty in this regard.

    One of the reasons I read this blog is that it regularly challenges my ways of thinking, and often causes me to reconsider how I look at something, as I don’t regularly read feminist perspectives. In this instance judgement is being passed on what’s going through a man’s head, and men are weighing in. I agree with the sentiment that “the impulse that causes someone to grope a cutout is [not] the same impulse that leads someone to sexually assault someone.” I agree with it because I’ve been trapped in the body of a heterosexual male for the past thirty-six years, and I think the men should get some consideration for being able to differentiate what’s going on in men’s minds.

    I am reminded of a story in a recent “This American Life” of a Lesbian who was starting hormone therapy in preparation for a sex change. After a testosterone injection this person was walking down the street but found she was now looking at women differently and her mind was engaging in more visualization of sex acts. She was now in possession of thoughts she had previously considered only jerks would have. Her personal testimony showed a lot of empathy for what is going on in the mind of a heterosexual male.

    Now, let’s take the Bill Clinton example again, more seriously. Here’s a guy who repeatedly had affairs with young women throughout his marriage and political career. I find his actions far more insulting to women and Ms. Clinton than Mr. Favreau’s. If you’re ready to toss aside Mr. Favreau for lack of judgement having his picture taken in a private moment with a cardboard, should not Bill Clinton have long ago been excused from any role in Ms. Clinton’s political life? This is not good for Mr. Favreau but it should be far from a career-killer.

  26. Ann Bartow on 07 Dec 2008 at 2:34 pm #

    I posted a few thoughts here:

  27. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 2:47 pm #

    Geoff, I would agree with you if we didn’t live in a world where this kind of stuff happens all of the time, and where women are continually reminded of the consequences of transgressing boundaries–either in their careers and professional lives, or in just walking around their neighborhoods after dark. If the world were an equal-opportunity place where women were powerful, assaulted men’s bodies at their discretion, and photographed themselves in mimicry of such assaults and were proud of that–then I’d agree that you have a point.

    Just one local example: Colorado is making a bid to be the Rape State of the U.S. again with 6 violent rapes and sexual assaults on women reported since October 30, including a gang rape of 4 women. The headline in the Denver Post story this morning is “Attacks spur more caution in Boulder.” Translation: this isn’t a public health emergency, folks. This is just what we do to girls and women, instead of declaring war on criminals and trying to put an end to their reign of terror. It’s up to the girls to exercise “more caution,” it’s not up to the city or county to go all out to apprehend the attackers and put an end to the crims.

    This is the world we live in. We live in a world where men do things like Favreau (and much worse) all of the time and get egged on and congratulated by their friends for expressing dominance over women. I agree with you that Favreau is expressing thoughts and feelings that most hetero males express–but that doesn’t make it OK. It does mean that Favreau probably won’t lose his job, however.

  28. Ignatz on 07 Dec 2008 at 2:55 pm #

    I’m a hetero, female Obama supporter who thinks he’s attractive; I might well grope a cutout of the President-Elect after enough (too much?) spiked eggnog. Would I be performing an act of female sexual dominance over a male?

    And a slight swerve from the mainline of the discussion: I’m often reminded that excellence in one aspect of a person’s life does not automatically line up with mature or praiseworthy behavior in other ways. As academix, for example y’all probably know good teachers or scholars who weasel out of department service; in grad school, I was amazed that my best friend–a compelling teacher, incisive scholar, and loyal companion–consistently picked unreliable romantic partners.
    Obama’s speechwriter helps write great speeches. He also failed to realize that he’s in the public eye, and in the camera’s. I’m glad he’s only 27; he has lots of time for his maturity to catch up to his talent. I hope his boss, and the incoming Secretary of State, told him in strong terms to stop doing dopey things. I certainly don’t think he should lose his job for this.
    Another quick point: If Obama privileges guys, he sure isn’t showing it in his Cabinet appointments. He’s picked women to lead State, Homeland Security, be the UN ambassador, and more–high profile positions.

  29. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 3:02 pm #

    I think, Ignatz, that you and Geoff are too hung up on the image of the individual being mock-groped. I don’t think that anyone would care if you were photographed doing as you say to an Obama cutout, but I think they would care if you were a high-level operative in the McCain campaign.

    But again, this is about context. We don’t live in a world where your behavior in that case would be encouraged or praised.

  30. Indyanna on 07 Dec 2008 at 3:47 pm #

    It resonates very much with the casual, unreflective sexism that was embedded in the old New Left in its political activities, back say through the years of the Eugene McCarthy and McGovern campaigns, and including some attitudes and expressions found in radical civil rights organizations like the Black Panthers. (And now that you think of it, Gary Hart wasn’t exactly setting too high a tone for his staff, was he?) Only I’d say its now worse, in being (to the extent this picture is diagnostic, anyway) less a matter of casual verbal degradation and more equally casual physically aggressiveness. The legal definitions of assault vary with the circumstances, I suppose, but eight year old boys have the book thrown at them for less than this on school busses, although admittedly not for things done with or to cutouts.

    I guess the alcohol dimension is part of what seems to have changed (we were not teetotalers, by any means–to say nothing of being all that enlightened–but pot did sort of make you, well, sleepy…). And, as _The Myth_ points, out, the bracket-creep of indulgence for this sort of stuff up through the late twenties. The two phenomena run together. Alcohol marketing–as the Super Bowl circus will show in about six weeks–virtually reeks with the presumption that men in their twenties are, and of necessity must be, at least borderline out of control.

  31. Mark on 07 Dec 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    So here’s my understanding of how Facebook photos work.

    You can allow access to tagged photos of you on your page whether they be uploaded/tagged by you or a friend. You can be tagged in a photo and it will show up depending on the approval of whoever uploaded the photo. So you don’t approve every photo that gets tagged.

    In this particular case it is possible (and I would say likely considering Favreau would have to know how cringe-inducing the photo was) that someone else uploaded the photo and added the tag to Favreau.

    Why have all of Favreau’s facebook photos disappeared? He likely disabled the feature that lets others see tagged photos of him, but the photo isn’t necessarily taken down, and he couldn’t take it down himself unless he was the uploader. Though, if he has any sense, he probably asked whoever put it up to take it down.

    That being said, why on earth would he pose for this photo?

  32. Erica on 07 Dec 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    @Ignatz — so you think that they were doing this because they find Senator Clinton attractive and like her a lot?

    Sexism, dominance, all that put aside (though it shouldn’t necessarily be), this was a disrespectful act and very unworthy of anybody working for a campaign, particularly a candidate’s speechwriter, to (1) do, (2) photograph, (3) publicly post.

  33. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 4:24 pm #

    Thanks, Mark, for the explanation about how the photos work on Facebook. We here at Historiann HQ are either way too old or far too young to have any insider insight. That may explain the passive voice used by CNN in the linked story above in the update.

    And yes, Indyanna–what we’re seeing isn’t new, and it wasn’t examined enough in the New Left in its day, either.

    Erica, well said. You articulated what I failed to in re: Ignatz’s point. It’s not an expression of sexual dominance to fondle a photo of someone you are attracted to and admire (necessarily, although it may also be that.) It is an expression of sexualized dominance to do that to an image of one’s opponent, clearly.

    And, one more thing: does anyone really think a public boob grab at a party is something that women would interpret as a sign of admiration, attraction, and respect? It sure seems to me like an aggressive sign of sexual domination.

  34. Professor Zero on 07 Dec 2008 at 4:25 pm #

    Yes, it is part of the frat boy or should I say rape culture and so on and I am against it.

    I notice that men do *not* like the idea of the tables being turned on this sort of thing … they do not think it would be funny if the roles were reversed.

  35. Jeremy Young on 07 Dec 2008 at 4:50 pm #

    Mark is correct — it’s not clear whether he posted the photo himself or whether someone else took the photo and then posted it and tagged him in it.

    Regardless, his lack of judgment in allowing the photo to be taken in the first place — not to mention the blatant sexism of the act itself — are cause enough for firing him. Being drunk is no excuse — if you can’t keep from graphically sexually insulting the opposing candidate while drunk, then you aren’t enough in control of your alcohol consumption to merit retaining on the payroll.

  36. Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » That’s an Obama speechwriter on the left. on 07 Dec 2008 at 6:37 pm #

    [...] Historiann writes: This squib at CNN (posted yesterday) suggests that the photo was on Favreau’s Facebook account, [...]

  37. Joey Null on 07 Dec 2008 at 7:23 pm #

    ” . . . because after using the passive voice to say that the photo ‘appeared on Facebook Friday . . .””

    That is an example of the passive voice.

  38. Historiann on 07 Dec 2008 at 7:32 pm #

    Sorry, Joey–you are correct. I should have said that saying that the photo “appeared on Facebook Friday” was a construction used to avoid specifying the actor who caused it to appear. Writers use the passive voice to erase actors from their actions.

  39. Joey Null on 07 Dec 2008 at 7:36 pm #

    Oh well, We all make mistakes — I managed to skip the word “not” in my comment. (I, of course, meant that the quoted sentence was NOT an example of the passive voice.)

  40. Indyanna on 07 Dec 2008 at 9:56 pm #

    Meanwhile, Favreau was a centrally-featured person of interest in a piece in the _Times_ today about the Obamaites crashing the boards in Georgtown, Kalorama, Dupont Circle, etc. to secure critical cribs in D.C. [Styles, 1, 8]. He and his generational peeps are apparently taking the Craigslist Castle approach to settling close enough together to keep the party going.

    The background visuals in the picture above make a greek chorus. Bro. from the Beta House, behind the sink, chortles on cue, while the woman over-shoulder has that pained “somebody should really say something, but why does it have to be me again?” look. We’ve seen that one before.

  41. Gender, youth, culpability, and responsibility : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:22 pm #

    [...] the commenters on the recent blog posts (here and elsewhere) about Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter Jon Favreau have suggested that his tacky groping [...]

  42. Geoff on 07 Dec 2008 at 10:54 pm #


    I’m too poststructuralist to talk in terms of what this matter is or is not in any objective sense. It was something (likely fleeting) to Mr. Favreau at the time. It is registering to many others as something, perhaps something else than what it was to Mr. Favreau.

    Some comments have been made that what is important here is the circumstance; that had the picture not featured Hillary Clinton, it would be different. I’m skeptical. I think that if Obama’s speechwriter had been caught with his hand on some other cardboard boob, it would still be blog fodder. It would be evidence of the Obama campaign being this or that, or that Obama should do this or that. Because Ms. Clinton was his political adversary is this necessarily a sign of dominance? Please see the paragraph above. Nobody knows what it was to Mr. Favreau except himself and perhaps those in attendance to whom he may have said something.

    I think there’s a really interesting discussion to be had about why rates of rape and sexual assault are markedly higher (often several times higher) in America than they are in western Europe. Why do American women need to be several times more afraid of American men than their European counterparts? I’m sure a lot of the difference is cultural. That would be a good blog topic. But the relationship of this episode to rape in America is at most tangential and in no way causal.

    So, if he uploaded it himself he certainly was pretty stupid. But I think there’s something else going on here in this blog. After all, Bill Clinton has two REAL women in his past who claim to have been lewdly propositioned to by him, not to mention his affairs (at least three while holding public office). One poster said that Mr. Favreau “clearly didn’t respect” Ms. Clinton. In my opinion, few men in America have shown Ms. Clinton less respect than her husband. Whatever the stupidity or lewdness of Mr. Favreau, he’s got a long way to go before catching up to Bill.

    I’m still writing because I loathe ‘gotcha’ politics. I don’t want to be judged by my worst moments or episodes taken out of context, nor I suspect do any of you. Obama’s ability to blunt these attacks, not be drawn in to the debate and stay on message is heartening for the future of our political discourse.

  43. blue epiphany on 08 Dec 2008 at 8:51 am #

    Geoff – why on Earth do you keep bringing Bill Clinton up? Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton are married; Mr. Favreau and Hillary Clinton work in the same company. The relationships are not the same. Furthermore, unless you’ve got evidence that Bill Clinton has, in the past month, “lewdly propositioned” a woman, then drop it. People can change.
    And to me, that’s the point. Bill Clinton got called out, big time, for his behavior. He was impeached, for god’s sakes. His marriage nearly ended (I don’t have a source, but I recall reading about how Billy Graham councelled her to try to make the marriage work, and she had to think long and hard about it). And his behavior changed.
    Mr. Favreau is not being called out by his bosses, and that’s the problem. What reason does he have to change if he can sexually insult a co-worker and get away with it?
    The big difference, to me, between this and the examples given above (what if I groped a cut out of a bikini-wearing model? what if I, not being a member of a campaign, groped an Obama cutout?) is that Favreau and Clinton work together. If Favreau is not fired, this poisons the workplace. And THAT’s why he should be fired, or at the very, very minimum, demoted. Because to do otherwise is to say to every woman working in the Obama administration, “you are less than. you do not deserve respect from your coworkers.”

  44. blue epiphany on 08 Dec 2008 at 9:00 am #

    And in case anyone wants to dodge my larger argument by nit-picking a smaller part, I know that the US government is not a “company”, but I felt that it’s easier to emphasize that this is a situation of workplace sexual harrassment by calling the government a company. And the reason this is workplace sexual harassment, even though it happened at a private party, is because it was broadcast to the world; it became a public mocking of Clinton. If it had not been made public, it still would have been wrong, but not a firing offense, IMO. Even if he didn’t post it to Facebook himself – he posed for the picture. He’s an adult in a position of high responsibility. And he should face the consequences of his actions.
    (sorry for the long rant. I’ve been reading about this all weekend, and it’s built up. Also, Historiann, I really appreciated your thoughtful comments in the Corrente thread – I’m going to have to start using “All About Jim” :)

  45. Historiann on 08 Dec 2008 at 9:28 am #

    Thanks for stopping by to comment here, blue ephiphany. I agree with what you say entirely: “Even if he didn’t post it to Facebook himself – he posed for the picture. He’s an adult in a position of high responsibility. And he should face the consequences of his actions.” Posed is right: he saw someone with a camera, and took an active role in making that image. (At least, I doubt he walked around the party with his hand on cardboard Clinton’s breast all night long, although I suppose anything is possible.) I also like your point that they work for the same company–but it’s not the government at large, it’s for Barack Obama. Apparently this is a recent photo, and it’s been 6+ months since Clinton was a “rival” by any measure.

    A lot of college and university faculty people read and comment on this blog. I’ve been wondering all weekend what would happen to one of us if we were caught in such a stupid (and possibly drunken) moment in a photo. It might well violate the “morals clause” in many of our contracts, which provides an escape hatch for firing us even if we’re tenured.

    What were you all doing when you were 27? I started a one year full-time lectureship at a major university the week I turned 27. I was a grown-up, and I understood the importance of acting like one especially in re: my role as an educator.

  46. Erica on 08 Dec 2008 at 10:28 am #

    When I was 27, I was an engineer for a car part maker. Not quite a president’s speech-writer, but I knew enough not to slash tires of a Chevrolet just because I worked with Ford…

    @ blue epiphany — “Mr. Favreau is not being called out by his bosses, and that’s the problem…. If Favreau is not fired, this poisons the workplace. And THAT’s why he should be fired, or at the very, very minimum, demoted.” YES!

    I can only hope that this is being dealt with seriously internally, because it doesn’t look from the outside like anything is being done. That is probably the critical difference between corporate and government jobs — the latter are very public, and average citizens see what goes on and have input on actions. If the VP of Accounting fondled a picture of the VP of Engineering in a major corporation, we’d probably never hear of it, or even if we did we wouldn’t expect much accountability; it’s the corporation’s job to uphold its own standards. The responsibility of public servants, even (or particularly) at such high levels of government, is greater.

  47. blue epiphany on 08 Dec 2008 at 11:16 am #

    I wanted to clarify something that, in the threads I’ve read here and elsewhere, has seemed to be a sticking point for understanding between people arguing that Mr. Favreau should/should not be fired.
    Some people (and I found myself making this argument earlier, when I talked about how people can change) seem to think that whatever actions are taken, it’s about changing Mr. Favreau’s behavior, or punishing him personally for offending Senator Clinton. But that’s not the reason he should be fired/demoted.
    The reason is, to make it clear that this behavior from anyone towards their coworkers is not acceptable. This isn’t about Mr. Favreau or Senator Clinton – this is about what kind of working environment the Obama administration will foster. So it doesn’t matter if Mr. Favreau is really a good guy, if he only did this because he was drinking, etc. It doesn’t matter if the cutout had been of Clinton, or Michelle Obama, or Governor Napolitano. It’s about maintaining a safe work environment for everyone. And if a blind eye is turned to this event, or if Mr. Favreau is given a slap on the wrist, then I doubt this will be the last time we see this sort of degradation from a member of the Obama administration (just think – Larry Summers has barely even been in the media yet! Something to look forward to).
    And thanks, Historiann and Erica – usually when I’m feeling passionate about something, I sputter, but on occasion I’m able to do more than just go “wha? the hell? seriously?!”

  48. cgeye on 08 Dec 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    Y’know what? Nothing that *we* think about this matters. Let’s quote from the Obama Administration job application, from the NYT:

    “They must include any e-mail that might embarrass the president-elect, along with any blog posts and links to their Facebook pages.

    The application also asks applicants to “please list all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet.””


    Love the failed preemptive damage control…

  49. Historiann on 08 Dec 2008 at 12:35 pm #

    Hi cgeye–welcome back. This is what makes the “recent”-ness of the photo so strange (to me, anyway). Why would one agree to be photographed at any private party doing anything after the long application and its thorough procedures were announced? Good lord.

  50. Chris on 08 Dec 2008 at 1:05 pm #

    I agree with a lot of what has been written here, but I’m honestly confused by the consistent interpretation of the groping as mock sexual assault as opposed to a mock consensual act. (Obviously cardboard cannot give consent, but neither can it be sexually assaulted.)

  51. Historiann on 08 Dec 2008 at 1:11 pm #

    Chris–do you really think a public boob grab can possibly be a consensual sex act?


    Please explain to me how being groped in public would be pleasurable or a mark of respect towards a woman.

  52. Erica on 08 Dec 2008 at 1:14 pm #

    @Chris — How about if Favreau had mock punched the cardboard in the face, does that make it clearer? An action towards an effigy (in this case cardboard cutout) is seen as one which you would like to be able to do to the real person, and have the real person not put up any resistance. This can include hanging in effigy, burning in effigy, and groping in effigy. Speculating on the possibility of this being mock consensual goes against thousands of years of effigy abuse.

    For it to be considered mock consensual, there had to be a premise on Favreau and the other man’s part that such an advance would be welcomed reciprocated. I have no doubt that neither one would consider such actions to Clinton in person, therefore there is no way that they could have thought she would appreciate such contact, THEREFORE it was not “consensual”. And I’m kinda creeped out to even have to make that argument.

  53. Ann Bartow on 08 Dec 2008 at 1:44 pm #


    You were too quick to concede the grammar point to Joey Null. Click on the link HE PROVIDED and check out the section on stative passives.

  54. Historiann on 08 Dec 2008 at 1:50 pm #

    Thanks, Ann! I have to admit that grammar makes my eyes glaze over. I’ve never really learned it properly, but fake it until what I’m writing sounds correct.

  55. Chris on 08 Dec 2008 at 2:42 pm #

    Historiann – I’m not arguing that it was at all respectful, but that’s a different issue than consent. And I’m not arguing that it was definitely mock consensual, just that it seems like a big leap to assume that it absolutely was not. However now I understand that you had imagined the fantasy act taking place in the same public setting as the mock act. That seems reasonable, but not the way I had imagined it. (I actually do think that touching a breast in public could possibly be consensual, but I’ll stipulate that a public setting makes the non-consent assumption much more likely to be correct.) Again, I completely agree that it was outrageously disrespectful and should have consequences. But I’m still not comfortable assuming that these guys were acting out a sexual assault.

    Erica – So sorry you are “creeped out” by the discussion. Please don’t let my response coerce you into further unpleasant participation. A punch in the face would indeed be clearer as to the question of consent. Surely you aren’t equating physical violence with sexual contact. I’ve never received a punched-in-the-face type of reaction from a woman whose breast I just touched. “Action… which you would like to be able to do to the real person, and have the real person not put up any resistance.” Seems to me that consent is one scenario that fits this description, though I admittedly have no knowledge of the history of effigy abuse. I think it’s entirely possible that in that 27 year old male mind, Hillary would love to have a secret tryst with a young, liberal, hotshot speechwriter. Maybe for pleasure, maybe for revenge on Bill. Who knows? I don’t. And I don’t think you do either.

    Disrespectful, aggressive, dominant? Yes. Assault? Maybe, maybe not.

  56. Historiann on 08 Dec 2008 at 2:53 pm #

    I think I see where you’re going, Chris. It seems that the difference between your perspective and Erica’s and mine is that she and I can’t help but think about this action in terms of a real woman’s body, whereas you’re seeing as an action done to a photograph. And I’m certainly not arguing that assaulting a cardboard cutout is equivalent to the assault of a real woman’s body. This goes back to the issue of context discussed in this thread yesterday. We live in a real world where there are many more women’s bodies assaulted and manhandled than cardboard cutouts.

    To me, and I think to many other commenters here, Favreau’s action speaks to a sense of entitlement and sexual aggression. In no way would that action be read or interpreted by a woman as a sign of attraction or respect.

  57. Erica on 08 Dec 2008 at 5:20 pm #

    Chris, speculating on whether Senator Clinton might want to have a fling with a speechwriter is simply disrespectful. It’s a level of creepy that Favreau didn’t even reach — he apologized to Clinton, he didn’t say he believed she would appreciate such an homage and then offer a more personal approach in future.

    For this to be viewed as mock consensual, there are pretty big questions which have to be asked. Did Favreau have a sexual understanding with Clinton at the time the photo was taken? How about beer-bottle-guy? If so, were all parties also fine with sexual contact being photographed and publicized? If you base “mock consensual” on “in that 27 year old male mind, Hillary would love to have a secret tryst with a young, liberal, hotshot speechwriter” — that’s only in his mind, and Favreau’s thoughts alone are not enough to make things consensual.

    Without a pre-existing relationship (or understanding that a relationship is starting, whatever), a man fondling a woman constitutes assault. I’m assuming that since you’ve never gotten punched in the face after touching a breast, you’ve always been touching breasts with permission. However, if you touch breasts without asking permission, it’s unreasonable to be surprised when you get smacked. (The last few sentences sound a little snarky and antagonistic, which isn’t how they’re intended; I’m just trying to point out how boundaries and permission generally work. Not hoping you get punched or anything :) )

  58. blue epiphany on 08 Dec 2008 at 5:54 pm #

    “To me, and I think to many other commenters here, Favreau’s action speaks to a sense of entitlement and sexual aggression. In no way would that action be read or interpreted by a woman as a sign of attraction or respect.”
    Exactly, Historiann.
    Chris, your argument seems to be:
    These two men could be acting out a fantasy in which they and Hilary Clinton are making out, and one of them’s groping her chest while the other licks her ear and holds her head as he pours beer in her mouth.
    Do you seriously think that’s more likely than, they’re degrading her by sexually assaulting her effigy? Really? And even if that is the case – is that better? If they had bought a Sarah Palin blow-up doll and imagined it was consensual, is it any less creepy than if they pretended to sexually assault it? Because that’s the parallel I’m drawing here – a sexualized Palin effigy, a sexualized Clinton effigy, and too many people say “It’s just a joke!”

  59. hysperia on 08 Dec 2008 at 6:22 pm #

    The ACTION of Favreau in the picture clearly says to me, as you have noted Historiann, “THIS is what women are for”. But I have a small bone to pick. I do take it as personal to Clinton – THIS is what women are for, not being President of the USA. And THAT matters to all women.

    It may be that final issue that aggravates me past the point of how I would feel if this had been a cutout of anyone else. Whether it was consciously in Favreau’s head or not, the picture says, if you want to step out of your “place” women, you can expect this kind of treatment, because this is what we REALLY think about you. We will beat you (as in the Primary) and we will ave no respect for you before, during or after your run for office. So give it up.

    Amazing conversation. Thanks Historiann.

  60. Chris on 08 Dec 2008 at 6:23 pm #

    Historiann – Fair enough. I don’t completely agree, but I understand your position better. Thanks for addressing the issue and clearing up my confusion.

    Erica – I think you’ve misunderstood what I meant by “mock consensual”, so we’ve probably been talking past each other. My original confusion was regarding why people seemed to assume that the act Favreau was *simulating* was an act of sexual assault. He simulated touching a breast, and I thought, “Why are we assuming that he imagines he’s assaulting her? Couldn’t he be imagining touching her in a consensual way?” We don’t need to discuss that question further, but I want to be clear on my original meaning. I’m not saying that Favreau had or thought he had Clinton’s consent. I just meant that the act being simulated, touching a breast, can be consensual or not and we don’t know what was in his mind.

    As far as my speculation, I’m not sure how it’s disrespectful, but I was only disagreeing with your speculation that “there is no way that they could have thought she would appreciate such contact”. But given the confusion over terms, I may have misinterpreted your argument.

  61. Ignatz on 08 Dec 2008 at 6:30 pm #

    Aren’t we all over-analogizing a wee bit? The legal elements of second degree sexual assault: physical contact of a sexual nature, without consent, with . . . a woman’s breasts. An assault is an act intended to cause an apprehension of offensive contact in the victim. Both require a) specific intent on the perp’s part and b) a human victim.

    As many have pointed out above, we have no way of knowing what Favreau’s intent was.More to the point, he manhandled CARDBOARD, not a human being! This is carnivalesque in a Bakhtinian sense, not criminal.

    I feel like this discussion is stuck in a Catherine McKinnon moment we can’t get out of…

  62. Chris on 08 Dec 2008 at 6:40 pm #

    Ignatz – Yep, and I’m sorry if I touched that off.

    blue epiphany – No, that isn’t my argument. Perhaps I’ve made it badly. However I absolutely agree that it was about degradation (or at least dominance), and I’ve said that it was disrespectful and should have consequences. But that is a different issue than consent/assault, which was the subject of my original question.

  63. John S. on 08 Dec 2008 at 6:50 pm #

    I don’t know if I have a lot to add here, but let me throw in this observation: having read all of these comments, I find it telling that the comments defending (even if obliquely) Favreau’s actions seem to traffic in the hypothetical or speculative much more than the comments criticizing his actions.

    In other words: to me the “sexual dominance” aspect of this seems extremely plausible on the face of it. Favreau and his associate have a adopted a pose in which they appear to be taking sexual advantage of a defeated rival; this is time-honored tradition that dates back as far as the period I study (17th-18th centuries): the powerful shows his/her (usually his) power over the weaker through sexuality. This is a pretty well-established historical trope. The fact that it could be an effigy of John McCain and not Hillary Clinton, to my mind, strengthens this reading: assertions of sexual dominance by men over men have been an important symbol of conquest, at least in American history, as well. Saying that Favreau is merely trafficking in the symbolic language of sexist power dynamics rather than homophobic ones hardly removes the power relations here. The history of sexuality, power, and dominance in American history makes this, on the surface, the reading that many of the people calling for Favreau’s firing extremely plausible. It’s a symbolic display of power that has a pretty first order relationship to real world displays of power in American history.

    Making a counter argument, however, has has led to discussions of Bill C. cheating on Hillary C.; questions of whether or not HRC would want to have an affair with Favreau, etc. These are things that don’t leap immediately to mind–how, exactly, do they explain his behavior, or place it into context? Was he possibly thinking those things? Were they anywhere in the back of his mind?

    Though I have spent more time than I would like studying the semiotics of symbols, I really prefer an Occam’s Razor approach here. All things considered, I’d go for the more obvious relationship.

    If we can see reasons to condemn the conduct on the face of it, and have to strain to find reasons to defend it, then that speaks volumes.

  64. Erica on 08 Dec 2008 at 6:52 pm #

    @Chris — yes, we were apparently talking past each other! So I feel a bit less creeped out, thanks.

    I’m still going to stick by the point that speculating over whether or not Senator Clinton would be sexually interested in a man her daughter’s age is disrespectful, in the same way that it was disrespectful when a co-worker of mine started talking about vibrators and sex toys that women in the office might like. It was completely irrelevant to the environment and none of his damn business and he got in trouble for it. Similarly, Clinton’s sexual preferences aren’t any of our business or Favreau’s business, so speculating on how she’d feel about it is disrespectful.

    @Ignatz — Extending your logic, there is then no reason to be upset by an effigy of Obama or Palin hung from a noose? No, Clinton wasn’t actually sexually assaulted. Nobody is saying Favreau should be arrested. But visual symbols are powerful, and that action towards her picture makes a statement about the attitude Favreau and friend hold towards her.

  65. Historiann on 08 Dec 2008 at 8:30 pm #

    John S., thanks for stopping by to add your professional expertise to the mix. I agree with you: what’s so hard to interpret about this photo?

    Erica, you are the queen of cutting through the B.S.–my hat is off to you, madam. You seem to know what I’m trying to say much better than I’m actually saying it.

    Ignatz, I don’t understand your stake in defending this guy. He’s a jerk who has created “drama” on the famous “No Drama Obama” team. He needs to be cut loose. No one is talking about prosecuting him (as Erica points out). By the same token, no one is entitled to a high-profile job.

  66. Ignatz on 08 Dec 2008 at 9:29 pm #

    Erica–of course I would be more upset by a photo showing, say,Favreau pretending to shoot Clinton in the head. That would be an explicit and unusual expression of hatred. What Favreau did was an expression of–let’s construe this at its worst–”We won, you lost, we dominate you.” That’s icky, but not nearly as icky.

    Historiann, I could give a d-mn about Favreau. What disturbs me about this thread is some posters’ quickness to condemn-I even discern a hint of glee, or is it schadenfreude? Think of Mettray: “‘The least act of disobedience is punished and the best way of avoiding serious offenses is to punish the most minor offenses very severely . . .’
    The judges of normalcy are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the ‘social worker’ judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements.”
    The Net has become the Panopticon–and we’re taking our turns as guard.

  67. Historiann on 08 Dec 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    Ignatz, I think the commenters here are judging behavior they see as objectionable. This is a feminist blog. Most of us have a feminist viewpoint, regardless of political affiliation. And, since none of us have any authority to “punish” Favreau, I don’t understand why you’re quoting Mettray. My views, and that of my readers, are hardly mainstream. That should be consoling.

    Just because he works for Obama doesn’t mean that his behavior should get a pass. Please imagine, if you will, that this was a photo of gleeful Republican operatives. Does that make it any more unpalatable for you?

  68. Geoff on 08 Dec 2008 at 11:11 pm #

    Now a little response to why I brought up Bill Clinton, though I really don’t have much more to say than what I’ve already said, though perhaps here more explicitly.

    If one is going to take somebody’s actions towards women into account when determining whether he or she should be in a public position or associated with a campaign, then I don’t see why the same standard shouldn’t be applied to Bill as it is being applied to Favreau. Bill was long associated with Ms. Clinton’s campaign, yet these questions didn’t arise with anywhere near the intensity they are being discussed here. Of course there are good reasons why they weren’t discussed: whatever happened between Bill and the two women who accused him of inappropriate advances, most people see the totality of the man and judge him in that context. Others often see Clinton’s serial affairs as an issue to keep inside the marriage.

    So why is the same benefit (of being judged by the sum of his actions) not being applied to Favreau? Both men had their intimate affairs born into the world from their indiscretion. You commenters likely have your own answers. I would guess that since we know little about Favreau, this is all the material we have to judge him on. He’s a blank slate and he’s being filled in with the interpretations of this photo, which (to me) have more to do with predispositions of those making the interpretations than with whatever he was thinking at the time. He strikes me as having a mildly transgressive moment at a private party with some friends, but neither I nor you know what was in his mind at the time…nor do I think it really matters, though I appreciate that many of you do.

    My grandmother was serially raped by advancing Soviet forces in 1945. She had three young children with her at the time, one of whom was my father and another who died on the journey west. I was several feet away when a potted plant was thrown at my aunt’s head by her husband when I was nine. It went crashing through the kitchen window. My half-sister just divorced a meth addict who was arrested as an accessory to armed robbery. Two of my three girlfriends have had date rape experiences. I was the first person my high school best friend told that he’d hit his girlfriend in a jealous fit over her infidelity. A friend of my wife’s was killed by her abusive husband. Many of you have likely been associated with or had similar experiences. I’m not an expert in this stuff, but enough of it has hit close enough to home that I don’t take it lightly. Just because I see little significance in this picture doesn’t mean that me or anyone else arguing that he shouldn’t lose his career doesn’t think critically about issues of gender and violence.

    Someone asked Ignatz why she was defending Favreau. She’s speaking for herself but I’m going to answer that same question. We may share a similar Nietzschean/Foucauldian resistance to having thoughts monitored and judged with regards to what some see as socially healthy (and in need of sanitization). I think men do best accepting the thoughts they have and learning to channel them into an appropriate outlet. The sex drive manifests itself in various ways…sometimes playful, sometimes cuddly, sometimes lusty and yes, sometimes dominating. It’s a part of who many of us are. I also grew up in an extraordinarily judgmental family, and it’s been one of my life’s tasks to overcome that background.

    The rewards have been manifold.

  69. hysperia on 09 Dec 2008 at 12:17 am #

    @Geoff, I have no idea what Favreaus’ thoughts were and I have no thoughts on Nietzschean/Foucauldian resistance to monitoring thoughts either. What is being critiqued here is not what Favreau thought, but what he DID. If he’d only thought about what he did, he might not have done it and if he’d only thought it, no one would have anything to say about it.

    In my former profession, law, issues of trust and public behaviour often arise. People may be forgiven by their family and associates and be given “another chance” by those who trust them. Trust from the public, however, and from one’s professional colleagues, is another issue. There is such a thing as accountability and people need to see that it is so. The way that a “punishment” or professional accounting is measured is an important thing. Sometimes a fine can be “enough”. Sometimes a “suspension” is in order. And occasionally, people must be disbarred, even if they are not entirely “evil” – and I’m not sure anyone is. The punishment is not just for the person punished, but also for the public, so that justice is seen to be done and so that certain values are reinforced.

    If nothing happens to Favreau that is made public, none of these goals can be met. The measure of response will tell us a little something about how serious the Obama administration is about anti-sexism – my guess is, not very serious, but I’d be happy to be wrong. My best guess is that Favreau was likely more guilty of NOT thinking than of having “nasty” thoughts. I just can’t tell you how disinterested I am in what he was thinking, in any case. However, what Favreau DID was unworthy of someone holding the position he does. I’m not sure at all how it is helpful to compare what he did to things that other people do or did that we think are worse.

  70. hysperia on 09 Dec 2008 at 12:38 am #

    BTW, in an earlier comment, I said that if my 27-year old son acted the way Favreau did, the women in his life would have him in stocks in the public square. This was an exaggerated way to describe the response and an attempt at levity where, perhaps, it was inappropriate. I just want to be clear that I don’t think that’s a punishment I would find appropriate for anyone and I didn’t say it’s what I think should happen to Favreau. My son would laugh if he saw that comment of mine, though. What it means is that the women in his life would never choose to be victims and that they have enough power in their relationships with him that they are more than able to stand up for themselves. I should add that one of the reasons that kind of equality is possible is because it is viewed by all parties to the relationship to be important. There ARE consequences when that understanding is violated, though obviously, not the metaphorical one I mentioned.

  71. John S. on 09 Dec 2008 at 1:34 am #

    @hysperia–I think that your previous two comments are right on. The public private distinction is an important one, and may be particularly helpful in getting at the question of who exactly might be harmed by by Favreau’s actions. I break this down into three categories, in my mind:
    1) HRC herself. This is honestly something I’m not overly concerned with. This isn’t out of a lack of respect to HRC; it’s more that I suspect she’s suffered more disrespectful displays than this. She doesn’t deserve any of this, but I would be surprised if she spent more than a minute of her time thinking about what particular impact this would have on her. (This relates, I think, to hysperia’s most recent point–HRC can do a better job standing up for herself than any of us could do defending her.)

    More significantly, however, I think this display has a corrosive effect on
    2) people working for Obama. I would imagine that Favreau’s actions could easily have a negative impact of the workplace environment. I’ve worked before in situations where sexual harassment was tolerated and can say that it most certainly affected morale. As many have noted above, you just can’t tolerate this kind of behavior.

    I can see, however, that dealing with the Favreau incident might not require his firing or resignation; a good manager probably has a better sense than an outsider of what is necessary to create a healthy workplace environment. A zero tolerance attitude towards sexual harassment can mean that the behavior is never tolerated, but it doesn’t have to mean that the offender is always fired. I’d certainly think twice about putting Favreau in a supervisory position, though; I would think (though I am not a woman) that working for someone who’s done this could be hard. But I am projecting there.

    It also has a negative impact on
    3) the general public. Here is where exemplary punishment seems very appropriate. The fact is, Favreau has (to my mind), broken his public trust with this. I can see why many people suspect that he may not have been thinking consciously about being sexist (though I don’t buy that for a second). But think about that defense. Our public servants are supposed to be mindful. They’re supposed to think about the signals they send to the public. This particular incident seems to suggest that it’s okay to demean not just women in general (bad enough), but to demean one of the most respected women in our country. No matter how successful you area, some young jerk can “put you in your place.”

    And moreover, think of Favreau’s job. A speech writer, of all people, should be mindful of the symbols of leadership. This is a guy who writes the fancy words that try to convince us Obama isn’t a hypocrite (or, at least, more sincere than other politicians).

    Thinking about category #3 makes me think the guy’s got to go. Maybe that’s a shame, because if he worked on some of Obama’s speeches that were so wonderful then he’s a talented guy. But yeah, sometimes one stupid mistake *should* cost you your job.

  72. Historiann on 09 Dec 2008 at 6:22 am #

    Geoff, we disagree. But I urge you to see hysperia’s point, which is that for most of us this is not about “thought crimes,” it’s about his actions. Those of us who think he should be cashiered and are commenting here don’t have any decision-making authority of course, but I think that a staffer who has been caught in something publicly disgraceful like this–after having been warned that he would need to submit his Facebook account for scrutiny–has got to go. It’s nothing personal–it’s just business.

    I don’t want to speak for anyone but myself here, but Geoff’s comment has helped me come to grips with the nature of the dispute here, so bear with me:

    Geoff, Chris, and Ignatz disagree with most of the other commenters here (myself, Erica, hysperia, and John S., just to name some who have kept the conversation going) because they don’t see Favreau’s faux pas as an action since it was enacted on a cardboard cutout. That makes it a thought crime instead of an action, in their view–a simulation of a public boob grab instead of a public boob grab of a living woman. I can see their point, but I disagree. I think Erica said it best when she recounted the role that violence done to symbols has played in controlling and disciplining people (the hanging and burning of effigies, etc.) So, the difference of opinion here is about the role that symbols play in our political discourse, and I don’t see any of us changing each other’s minds in this thread! That’s perfectly fine.

    One last thing: Geoff, I still think Bill Clinton is irrelevant to this discussion. Hillary Clinton is her own person. You write, “Bill was long associated with Ms. Clinton’s campaign, yet these questions didn’t arise with anywhere near the intensity they are being discussed here.” They didn’t arise because Bill Clinton kept his hands to himself this year! Give the guy a break. He’s at least had the class never to be photographed making a public boob grab or something else equally crude.

  73. blue epiphany on 09 Dec 2008 at 7:48 am #

    I wanted to reiterate something I said that Geoff apparently overlooked – Bill Clinton was known to be a sexist ass about 10 years ago, and was impeached and dragged through the coals over it. Favreau was a sexist ass within the past couple of months, and….what. Had a bunch of bloggers say he should get fired? Oh, the horror!
    Hysperia, for what it’s worth, I agree with you that Favreau’s actions were directed to Clinton personally, but I don’t think it matters; the message being sent is, party on, dudes! Because life should just be one big frat party, and woe to the women who aren’t members of the right sorority, or piss off the wrong frat brother.

  74. Erica on 09 Dec 2008 at 9:19 am #

    It doesn’t matter what Favreau was thinking. It matters what he did.

    If I have trouble with sexual harassment at work, I have trouble with public overt actions, such as John whispering to me how nice Jane looks today in that blouse and he wishes she’d dress like that every day. In that situation, I’m stuck with knowing that John is visually undressing Jane. I don’t speculate about whether John is doing the same to other female co-workers (including me) when I complain, because despite it being highly likely, I don’t know that for sure.

    Here, we’ve got a complete picture of an action taken by Favreau and another Obama staffer. It doesn’t matter what was going through their minds, although it’s possible to speculate and we’d probably be right — it matters what they did, and it also matters what will be done about it. They’ve fondled Jane and cheerfully let the other women in the office know about it; what’s going to happen next?

  75. Erica on 09 Dec 2008 at 9:21 am #

    the difference of opinion here is about the role that symbols play in our political discourse, and I don’t see any of us changing each other’s minds in this thread! That’s perfectly fine.

    I was thinking last night that this is one of the most civil disputes I’ve managed to have online :) While I’d like to “win”, I’d rather have intelligent discussion. So thanks everybody.

  76. steveeboy on 09 Dec 2008 at 3:58 pm #

    kudos all,

    this is the best discussion of this topic I have found anywhere.

    I feel like I just attended a very interesting and timely AHA panel or something.

    Thank you for the education.

  77. hysperia on 09 Dec 2008 at 3:59 pm #

    Seconds on that one Erica!

  78. Historiann on 09 Dec 2008 at 4:58 pm #

    Thanks, everyone. Welcome back steveeboy. (What do you know about the AHA? Are you a closet historian or something? ;))

  79. Geoff on 09 Dec 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    I really like the tone of the last dozen and a half posts. They’ve given me encouragement about participating in constructive dialogue on other threads in the future. While our interpretations of what did or didn’t happen, and what the significance is or isn’t will continue to vary, I appreciate your thoughtful and lengthy responses to posts. I’ve been grappling with why this topic acquired so much energy over the past few days, and am happy to have what feels like a conclusion, and can again look forward to seeing some of you socially.

    Historiann is right, after all…I really do not like Bill Clinton.


  80. Emma on 11 Dec 2008 at 12:39 pm #

    There is one bottle in this picture. One. Which is assumed to be a beer, probably b/c it’s a green bottle. Favreua isn’t drinking from it. Isn’t even holding it.

    There is NO indication that this was a “drinking party”, that anybody was drunk, or that this was any kind of a party. Indeed aside from the fact that there is one open (assumed) beer bottle, there’s no evidence that anybody was drinking.

    My understanding is that everybody in that photo has been identified as an Obama speechwriter. It’s equally as likely that they were all there working as that they were all there partying and drunk.

    As to Bill Clinton: his actions with Monica Lewinsky were 100% consensual on both sides, as Lewinsky herself has said.

    As to the sexual harassment suit brought by Paula Jones: Clinton was sued for his alleged behavior. So, he at least had to face some consequences for what he allegedly did. I say allegedly because the case was dismissed on the rationale that even if Clinton did what Jones said he did (which the Court made no finding on), it wasn’t legally actionable as sexual harassment. After an appeal was taken from the dismissal, Clinton settled with Jones without any acknowledgement or finding of liability or wrongdoing by Bill Clinton. Whatever one might want to say about Clinton’s alleged behavior, it cost him $850,000 plus more in attorney fees and litigation costs.

    But Favreau should get a free pass because Bill 1) engaged in consensual sexual behavior with another adult and 2) got sued for sexual harassment and paid over a million dollars to settle it? Really?

  81. Heart on 11 Dec 2008 at 1:04 pm #

    Hysperia: The ACTION of Favreau in the picture clearly says to me, as you have noted Historiann, “THIS is what women are for”. But I have a small bone to pick. I do take it as personal to Clinton – THIS is what women are for, not being President of the USA. And THAT matters to all women.

    It may be that final issue that aggravates me past the point of how I would feel if this had been a cutout of anyone else. Whether it was consciously in Favreau’s head or not, the picture says, if you want to step out of your “place” women, you can expect this kind of treatment, because this is what we REALLY think about you. We will beat you (as in the Primary) and we will ave no respect for you before, during or after your run for office. So give it up.

    YES. You have absolutely NAILED one of the things that is SO egregious about this act, Hysperia. It is male sexuality as dominance, i.e., “this is what you’re good for, and this is all you’re good for, and the fact that our guy beat you proves it, so take THIS.”

    The arguments about Facebook are to me not relevant. If the guy had only e-mailed this photo to one person, it would still have been horrible. The issue isn’t the fact that Favreau got caught and all the reasons why he should have been more careful. The issue is that the speechwriter for the President Elect thinks this kind of thing is funny in the first place. He’s a misogynist and should be fired posthaste.

  82. Satsuma on 11 Dec 2008 at 6:59 pm #

    This photo was an outrage to all women. An Obama staff member should be fired for doing something like this. Any HR department at my company would take this very seriously indeed if it involved the photo of a woman in the office.

    Folks, this is what sexism and the contempt for accomplished women looks like. It’s the same sort of thing frat boys do — they hire strippers, they commit date rape, they harass women on the streets.

    Imagine a card board cutout of Obama as a slave in chains. Good fun right? When it’s women, liberal men feel free to be as sexist and rape promoting as they want to be. Just recently a man gropped my breast at an event. I took him out in the hallway, and we had quite a talking to. His terror was complete. He might think twice about ever messing with women again!

    Fire that sexist pig immediately Mr. Obama, just clean house now!!

  83. “Feminist Law Profs” in the WaPo this A.M. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 14 Dec 2008 at 10:45 am #

    [...] to our friend Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Profs this morning in a strange apologia on behalf of Jon Favreau: The blogosphere the past few days has begun to resemble Durham, N.C., circa 2006 following the [...]

  84. Dumbest. Comment. Ever. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 21 Sep 2011 at 9:32 am #

    [...] I’m sure most of you humorless feminazis have been following with unsurprised disgust all of the chatter about Ron Susskind’s Confidence Men and his “revelation” that Barack Obama White House is run more like a pickup hoops game, with women advisors sidelined and shoved into the bleachers.  After all, President Obama made his basketball buddy the Secretary of Education, and those Obama golf outings sure look like photos of every other Presidential golf entourage of the past century, from William Howard Taft on.  Anyone who paid the slightest iota of attention to the gender politics of Obama’s 2008 campaign won’t be surprised, anyway–all of us “sweeties” over the age of 30 or so sure as hell paid attention. [...]

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