Friday, May 13, 2011

The Situation

So we have a “situation” regarding the now famous photo taken from the Situation Room during the successful, high stakes Osama bin Laden mission.  (photo left, source Pete Souza, White House Flickr stream)
The photo has received attention because it’s one of the very few insider looks into the weekend.  But of course, it’s also received attention because you can’t help by notice Hillary.  Front row.  The only woman at the table.  This time, we’re not talking about her hair or the bags under her eyes.  Media is focused on the fact that she’s the only person appearing to show emotion in the scene.  And because she’s the only woman at the table, her emotion is highlighted, and pondered on.

Even Hillary felt like she needed to another possible explanation for her expression in the photo:
"Those were 38 of the most intense minutes. I have no idea what any of us were looking at that particular millisecond when the picture was taken...I am somewhat sheepishly concerned that it was my preventing one of my early spring allergic coughs. So it may have no great meaning whatsoever."
Compare this to Obama’s sweet, personal, and yes, emotional, statement during his 60 Minutes interview about those same 40 minutes.
 “And it was the longest 40 minutes of my life with the possible exception of when [daughter] Sasha got meningitis when she was three months old and I was waiting for the doctor to tell me that she was all right.”
Comparing the stress of national security to a stressful moment of parenthood?  Can you imagine the political backlash that any female politician would receive by making such a statement?  But from Obama, it demonstrates a certain type of humanity that we like in our (male) leaders.

The National Journal said that "It’s apparent in the way that female trailblazers of Clinton’s generation remain exquisitely self-conscious about – and apologetic for – anything that distinguishes them from the males they struggled so hard to make their peers. I know female senators who have agonized over the question of whether to carry a purse, worrying that it somehow detracts from the image of power they need to project."

Of course, one option is to simply Photoshop Hillary out of the photo altogether, as the Ultra Orthodox Hasidic newspaper in Brooklyn did.  As a way to protect women's "modesty," of course.

And who is the only other woman in the photo, in the back of the room?  She is Audrey Tomason with title "Director for Counterterrorism".  Her presence is notable for a few reasons. She's only other woman pictured in the testosterone-filled room, she appears to be the only person under 40, and she's one of the few unrecognizable faces or names in the room.  I loved the response from a spokesman for the National Security Council about  why she had never been identified or mentioned before: "Well, we've never killed bin Laden before." 

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