May 15, 2008

Quick note on Obama’s apology

Posted in language politics, news, sexism, U.S. politics at 4:38 pm by LB

As it turns out, Obama personally apologized to the reporter he called ‘sweetie’ yesterday a few hours after the encounter. From his voicemail:

“I’m calling to apologize on two fronts. One was you didn’t get your question answered and I apologize. […] Second apology is for using the word ‘sweetie.’ That’s a bad habit of mine. I do it sometimes with all kinds of people. I mean no disrespect and so I am duly chastened on that front. Feel free to call me back. I expect that my press team will be happy to try to make it up to you whenever we are in Detroit next.” (emphasis mine)

First, I really appreciate and respect that he admitted to being wrong. Though it’s awfully pathetic that I’m actually impressed by this; unfortunately, this is the kind of incident that in our culture would typically elicit the “I’m sorry you’re oversensitive and took it the wrong way” kind of apology. But it seems to me that Obama made a genuine apology and owning up to his “bad habit” using a type of language that perpetuate inequality. Unfortunately, though, this isn’t the first time this “bad habit” has come up.

Second, I like his swift response. I think he had already apologized by the time I had even read about the incident. Which makes him seem more genuine to me–he knew he was wrong and took care it it in a timely manner. He didn’t need to read the public response to his comment to ‘realize’ it.

Third, I have to say that he doesn’t do it with “all kinds of people”…namely, he doesn’t do it with grown, professional men. While I appreciate that he is trying to say he didn’t mean it personally, it isn’t quite accurate to say he says it for anybody. To say “all kinds of people” dismisses the specifically gendered use of the term, which while it may be used as a term of endearment for loved ones, is wholly condescending to use, especially for a professional woman. And as I said above, it’s certainly not the first time Obama has used it to refer to women he doesn’t know. And as it turns out, this woman never got her interview (insult to injury).

I like Obama. I was truly disappointed to hear him refer to a woman in this way. And I can’t ethically loathe the media’s sexism against Clinton without pointing out sexism if Obama does it (and especially with how much I blog about language). But I think his apology was genuine, that he understands he did wrong (rather than that it was merely “taken to wrong way”), and that he desires to do right by people. I just wish that he could have also realized that it wasn’t a generic “bad habit”. And especially with NARAL’s recent endorsement, I do hope to see him recognize the need for our culture to take women seriously.

(Cross-posted to The Reaction)

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