When Grope-gate kicked off last Friday night with the publication of this picture of Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau on the Washington Post's website, I waited in breathless anticipation for the outrage. By the time I woke up post-auto-asphyxia, almost no one had gotten outraged! I wondered, was Phillippe Reines that good a flack that a single joke from him could quell the calls to fire Favreau? Were all the P.U.M.A.s still nursing election hangovers or institutionalized? Had everyone else really missed it? But, it actually turns out that patience is just not a virtue I possess and other people's outrage — like Dee Dee Myers' and some of the Salon's Broadsheet bloggers — just takes longer to simmer.
My response was more immediate and tended, as always, to the inappropriate humor. While I, obviously, saw what people were going to get worked up about — he's groping her breast! — I figured that there are way more inappropriate pictures of me in the world doing things like groping statuary genitals, carrying around a stuffed beaver and sticking my tongue out (my photographic response being a case in point) to really complain. To me, it was just someone else's drunken, immature humor — and, cardboard boob or no cardboard boob, it was way, way less creepy than the picture of Will Bower frenching a statue of Princess Di.
Dee Dee Myers, naturally, disagrees (well, maybe not about the creepiness of Will Bower). She's not just mad at Favreau for being too stupid to take his appointment seriously — although there's no indication of when the photograph was actually taken — she's peeved about his hand.
What’s bugging me is his intention. 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.
Well, I can't deny the cupping bit — my own Photoshopping job shows the truth of that, if not my ex-boyfriend's statement that "Women can say whatever they want, but every guy knows what he's doing." Nor am I going to argue that it isn't a statement on Clinton's gender, since it obviously is. But that it's akin to actually groping Clinton? To violating and disempowering her? That it's remotely akin to rape? That there's no way that he finds Clinton sexually attractive? I mean, look, no one knows what goes on in the minds of men — particularly young political types in D.C. — and you kind of can't really know that, strange as it may seem. Let alone, as someone who gets her boobs grabbed occasionally, someone groping me — even in jest, which, yes, has happened, has been done by male and female friends of mine and can be funny in context (but you'd better know me damn well) — is not inherently disempowering or denigrating. It's a stupid picture taken (obviously) drunkenly and in an ill-considered moment but it's not this horrible thing either.
The women at Broadsheet are equally divided. Kate Harding and Tracy Clark-Flory admit to having done similar things themselves, but think the context of an Obama staffer doing it to a Clinton cut-out is what smarts and is inappropriate, though that's what makes it remotely funny. Amy Benford and Jeanne Carstensen think it's stupid but aren't outraged, given what else is going on. But Katharine Mieszkowski is in the Dee Dee Myers camp on this one.
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.
Actually, for the record, if Hillary Clinton's top female speechwriter had grabbed the cardboard nuts of Barack Obama, I might have honestly had to vote for Clinton. The difference, naturally, it that it wouldn't be seen as a symbolic gesture aimed at saying he was sexy, even subversively, even in humor. It would have been symbolic if "having him by the nuts," which has a completely different meaning than the boob grab.
But if you want to know what would have been actually offensive and breathtakingly sexist — and more in line with the worst of the things that people have said about Hillary Clinton — just picture this same image, with Favreau cupping Clinton's "testicles" (not that he would ever do that) By that standard, we kind of have come a long way since the primary season.
So let Jon Favreau wank to Hillary Clinton's breasts in peace. If you haven't noticed, they're kind of nice.