Last Thursday, President Barack Obama’s comments about Attorney General Kamala Harris inspired a flurry of angry reactions. His exact words?
“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake,” Mr. Obama said in introducing Attorney General Kamala Harris to the crowd at the Atherton home of John D. Goldman, a philanthropist and Levi Strauss heir, and his wife, Marcia Goldman.
Mr. Obama then went on: “She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country.” [Emphasis added.]
As the audience reacted with surprise and applause, Mr. Obama defended himself. “It’s true!” he said. “Come on!” [Source.]
Later that week, Obama called Harris to apologize. As a current law student myself (and a researcher of hot attorneys), I thought it would be interesting to ask some of my peers about their views on Kamala-gate.
Occupation: Litigation associate
“Like many other women, particularly women professionals, I was disheartened by President Obama’s comments regarding Kamala Harris’ looks. While I don’t think he intended to be sexist (Obama is a consummate flatterer and has often commented on the looks of men), his words stung because they showcased the power of male privilege.
As a male, a compliment on looks can only be seen as beneficial. For women, it is a more complicated territory. Whether a woman is conventionally attractive, unattractive, or straddling some spectrum, her image, particularly in the professional world, is constantly at the forefront of her mind. As an attorney, I receive so many mixed messages from men and women about how to dress and what my dress, or even my hairstyle, conveys.
The politics of female presentation is a loaded issue that often feels unwinnable. To thus see a high-powered women reduced to her looks, was a reminder that no matter how successful you are, as a women, you are still often judged by your cover.”
Name: Ashley C.
Occupation: Law student & account manager
“President Obama’s comments on Kamala Harris’ appearance have been highly criticized in the media. While on the one hand the comments have been characterized as sexist and inappropriate, I have trouble believing that the President intended to disrespect her. However, these events have brought to light a disturbing trend in our society, specifically that in many instances women are objectified.”
Name: Julian T.
Occupation: Program manager
“I’m glad President Obama apologized. I empathize with him because he was trying to be flattering, but it is in those moments where you let your guard down and forget that words have real power beyond your “honest” intentions.”
Name: Holly O.
“‘Ever since President Obama said that Kamala Harris was the “best-looking Attorney General in the country,” some people have been decrying the end of nice things.”Why can’t the President simply pay a woman a compliment?” they ask. “How is that sexist? That’s nice!”
Here’s the problem with that thinking: All “compliments” are not created equal.
On one end of the compliment spectrum, there’s President Obama telling his wife that she’s the “best-looking First Lady in the country.” Obviously, that’s all good. I also don’t think many people would care if, say, President Obama privately told a friend (who doesn’t work for him) that she was the “best-looking engineer in the country.
But when Obama, the chief of the Democratic party, says that about a Democratic Attorney General at a fundraiser, it’s different.
If you cannot comprehend the difference between an appropriate compliment and an inappropriate one, here’s a simple rule to live by: Don’t comment on a woman’s appearance at work. Especially if you’re her boss.”’
Name: Antima C.
Occupation: Law student
“Well, given the context of it, it seems as though it was a comment made from one friend to another. He obviously trusts her to make intelligent decisions, didn’t discredit her credentials, and they have known each other for a long time. I forgive this one given all these factors.”