Hideous sexism or harmless party pranks?

Broadsheet writers sound off on the controversial picture of Obama's 27-year-old speechwriter groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.

By Sarah Hepola
December 11, 2008 12:17AM (UTC)
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Behold the picture that has launched a thousand shit fits: Jon Favreau, 27-year-old boy wonder and chief speechwriter for our president-elect, groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Rodham Clinton. The picture surfaced late last week, via Facebook, and though it was quickly taken down it was later posted to a Washington Post blog and -- go figure -- all across the World Wide Web.


Clinton's spokesperson, Phillipe Reinnes, responding with the following: "Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application."

But others weren't laughing.    Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary under Bill Clinton,  fumed in a post on Vanity Fair's site:

"He isn’t putting his hand on her 'chest,' as most of the articles and conversations about the picture have euphemistically referred to it. Rather, his hand -- cupped just so -- is clearly intended to signal that he’s groping her breast. And why? Surely not to signal he finds her attractive. Au contraire. It’s an act of deliberate humiliation. Of disempowerment. Of denigration.

And it disgusts me."

Whether or not you consider the picture offensive, it's less than brilliant coming after Obama has asked prospective White House employees to turn over an unprecedented amount of information regarding their online activity.


However, I found it hard to drum up outrage. Maybe because I'm so inured to frat-boy shenanigans that this seems utterly tame; maybe it's because there is a frighteningly similar picture of me groping Dr. Spock at a college party. Was I missing something? 

I asked our Broadsheet staff to comment on the controversy. Their responses are posted below.

Amy Benfer: I cringed when I saw this, but more in a "how did this get on Facebook" way, not a "how in the world did this happen" way. Nothing good can come of bringing a cardboard cutout of anyone to a party, much less that of a political rival. I think Hillary's spokesperson's response was classy, funny and exactly right.


Jeanne Carstensen: It was hard for me to get too outraged over this sort of party pranking. The stupidity speaks for itself. Yet the dude with his hand cupping Hillary's cardboard breast is Obama's senior speechwriter. Obama is facing the worse national crisis in over a generation, and this guy is crafting his speeches? Talk about cognitive dissonance.

Kate Harding: Yeah, I think that's the real problem here. It's not like I don't have any pictures of myself or my friends drunkenly doing lewd things to inanimate objects, but the fact that it was Obama's senior speechwriter doing it to a Hillary effigy, after she suffered so much sexism while running against him -- there's just a little too much symbolism for comfort there. And then, as Amy said, how the hell did it end up on Facebook? There's also a little too much stupid for comfort there.


Katharine Mieszkowski: Try to imagine a photo of a top female speechwriter for the female president-elect grabbing the crotch of a cardboard cutout of the male politician whom her boss had vanquished in the primary. The cable news talking heads would be fulminating about castration for a week! It's pretty much impossible to imagine that photo being so easily dismissed as a dumb prank.

This is a case where "boys will be boys" is totally working in Favreau's favor. I'm not saying anything else should happen to him because of the photo -- Frankly, who cares? It's a cardboard cutout! The country is falling apart! -- but it's hard to imagine a woman getting away with the same thing.

Tracy Clark-Flory: As someone who has more than once spent an afternoon groping celebrity wax figures at Madame Tussauds, I generally am not offended by suggestive photos taken with cardboard cutouts. But I do find the context here offensive. As Kate said, the symbolism is what smarts.

Sarah Hepola

Sarah Hepola is the author of the New York Times bestselling memoir, "Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget."

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