NOW president Terry O’Neill finds it troubling that President Obama only hoops with the fellas. There are those that fear an all-boys culture is being cultivated in the White House and that’s not a good thing. If a woman’s good enough to run ball, then she should be able to do that. I’m fairly confident I know several ladies who would catch wreck in White House pick-up ball.

On a more serious level, O’Neill finds it troubling that, while women make up 52% of the voting population, they are only 7 out of 22 possible cabinet-level positions. That concern is also reasonable. There’s nothing intrinsic to being a woman that should prevent them from being able to do cabinet-level work.

I don’t have any  problem with any of above. I do, however, furrow my brow at the following O'Neill comment:

“It’s extremely important now especially for the president to have as many women as men in his closest circle of advisors. … If women had been at the heads of the companies on Wall Street instead of these masters of the universe then we might not be in the predicament that we’re in today.”

Huh?

Firstly, does she mean to assert that there is something intrinsic to being a woman that would better qualify an individual to make prudent decisions? Are these so-called “masters of the universe”–who women might have been better alternatives to–examples of what every man is or merely a personality type commonly seen in the upper reaches of Wall Street in an industry historically dominated by men (men who are predominantly white and of the Anglo-Saxon crust)?

Exactly who is O’Neill talking about?

When juxtaposing “women” against “masters of the universe,” a reader might reasonably infer that she is speaking about all men in such a way that implies men lack the ability to be reasonable. And while I’ll refrain from using something akin to a reverse discrimination argument, I do find it entirely interesting that a NOW president would craft a statement in that way. O’Neill may have a very particular group of people of whom she’s speaking, but she fails to clarify it and the analogy becomes more muddy–and seemingly of a blanket nature–when it is made in relation to those who keep the political counsel of a biracial man from Chicago by way of Hawaii.

On a more basic level, I find the Wall Street analogy troubling because it seems to overlook the nature of greed and exactly what part it had to play in this economic crisis.

Wall Street is most certainly a preppy macho enterprise in complexion. But the thing that culture pursues–money and unspeakable wealth–awakens something that I can’t appoint as only belonging to men. Money is prey and those on Wall Street are its insatiable predator. In many dangerous and tragic ways, Wall Street is a place for the shrewd but not the reasonable. Like most predators, those who participate often times do not know–or care–when enough is enough.

 

Does O’Neill mean to assert that women who had risen to the heights of a brutal and predatory culture would have known when to call it quits in the midst of prosperity because they were women?

O’Neill’s initial points are spot-on and absolutely should not be lost in this discussion. Gender equality is improving but there is still a long way to go. Casual and seemingly informal interactions among colleagues have professional ramifications and the fellas have to be mindful of such things.

But Ms. O’Neill should mind her analogies as well.

--JONATHAN PITTS-WILEY