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December 8, 2008


We read a lot about the Jon Favreau/Hillary Clinton cardboardgate incident over the weekend, and we have a confession to make. We're really not all that offended by it, and we don't think that Favreau should be fired for it, which seems to be a pretty unpopular opinion in the feminist blogosphere. So unpopular, in fact, that we've seen comments stating that anyone who shares our opinion on cardboardgate automatically qualifies as 'not a real feminist' at best and 'a closet misogynist' at worst. Obviously we take issue with that, but we're also comfortable with the fact that our opinion is based on our own thoughts and discussions about what happened, and we'd rather say what we really think and risk the 'bad feminist' label than jump on a bandwagon that we're not entirely comfortable riding. We've been called worse anyway.

Personally, I liked Hillary's response to the situation, and I thought it was interesting that it seemed like not too much attention was paid to it. Favreau reportedly contacted Senator Clinton to apologize, and apparently she accepted.
Clinton senior adviser Philippe Reines cast the photos as evidence of increased bonhomie between the formerly rival camps.

"Senator Clinton is pleased to learn of Jon's obvious interest in the State Department, and is currently reviewing his application," he said in an e-mail.

Many women feel like this picture was sexual harassment at the least and a mimicked sexual assault at the worst. But what about how Hillary Clinton herself feels about it? Since it was Cardboard Hillary, and by extension Hillary herself, who was the victim here, isn't her voice the most important one to hear in all this? Of course I get the argument that even if she were extremely offended by this, she's a member of Obama's cabinet now and she couldn't exactly come out blasting Favreau and publicly calling for his head on a platter. But I've done my research on Hillary (and voted for her more than once), and I really don't believe that she couldn't and wouldn't have reacted more forcefully if she had wanted to. Even a 'Senator Clinton accepts Mr. Favreau's apology' type statement could have been more strongly worded, but instead it seems like Senator Clinton wants to laugh this off and move on.

What if Hillary genuinely wasn't offended?

What if she was offended, but accepted Favreau's apology and now considers the matter resolved?

What if she was offended, but figures her "revenge" will come when she denies him any opportunity to work in the State Department?

What if Barack Obama talked this over with Hillary and offered to fire Favreau, and she said she didn't feel it was necessary? What if he was privately reprimanded?

What if she views this as a teaching opportunity, and is going to bring Favreau with her to parts of the Middle East, Africa, Central or South America to show him how harmful sexist societies are for women?

What if she's secretly furious and is planning to have Favreau killed in a mysterious accident before the inauguration?

Just kidding on that last one. But my point is that we don't really know what went on behind the scenes, and that maybe we should at least entertain the possibility that Senator Clinton handled it the way she wanted to handle it based on the way she felt about what happened.

I can say that I don't think I'm ready to sign on to the feminist consensus that this picture "mimicks sexual assault". Of course that's entirely possible and maybe even likely, but couldn't they also be parodying a consensual 'hookup' scenario? There was clearly alcohol involved, and while obviously being drunk doesn't explain away bad behavior, the ESC can personally attest to the fact that after a few drinks, a little boob grabbing among friends often suddenly seems like the best of ideas. (Emphasis on the "among friends" part.) And if this picture was taken after Hillary joined the Obama team and not during the primary fight, maybe they were just going for sort of a lame "Hillary's totally our girl now, yo"/"yeah dude, I totally got drunk and hooked up with her at that party" type of joke. In other words, maybe this magical moment between Favreau and Cardboard Hillary was consensual, to the extent that a cardboard cutout can consent, in the context of the joke. I'm not saying that would make it totally okay or appropriate or not sexist. I'm just not sure I'm prepared to say that because he took an inappropriate drunk jokey picture with a cardboard cutout, that means he's an irredeemable misogynist who condones sexual assault. And I'm especially not prepared to say that if the victim of the "mimicked assault" (the human one, not the cardboard one) doesn't see it that way.

The charges of sexual harassment seem questionable to me also. This is something that took place at a private party, not in the workplace. Actual NotCardboard Hillary wasn't present at the party. Most of the accounts I've read seem to indicate that it was someone else from the party and not Favreau himself who put the picture on facebook, and that it was taken down within a few hours, and was copied from facebook and spread all over the internet by a third party, which is a violation of facebook's terms of service and gets into some gray areas in terms of privacy. And obviously Favreau is not in any kind of power or authority position over Hillary Clinton in the workplace - actually quite the opposite. And...it's a cardboard cutout. I don't think that one drunk moment at a party with a cardboard cutout indicates that Favreau would be disrespectful to women in the workplace, or that any women he worked with would automatically feel like they were in a hostile work environment just because of this picture. I understand and respect the view that this does represent harassment/simulated assault. I just don't agree in this case.

This is going to sound like the 'why are you wasting your time getting offended over this when there are so many more important issues?' argument that we get so annoyed by when it's directed at us, so for the record, I'm absolutely not telling people who are offended that they shouldn't be. But I've been asking myself this question - if feminists have some momentum and some political capital to spend right now, and I think they do, is this really the thing to spend it on? Demanding that a speechwriter be fired for making a stupid mistake and taking an inappropriate picture with a cardboard cutout at a private party? Even if the person whose cardboard image was fake-fondled seems to be indicating that she doesn't want to resolve the issue that way? I can't answer for anyone else (except maybe the rest of the ESC), but my answer is no. I want to spend it on making sure President-elect Obama knows that we want the global gag rule repealed on day one, that we want the Ledbetter Act to be a top priority of the new Congress because equal pay is a critically important issue that affects our crumbling economy, that we want the Senate to ratify CEDAW, and that we don't want to waste another dollar of federal money on abstinence-only sex education programs that don't work and are harmful to women. But that's just me.

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Anonymous said...

Cardboard Hillary is smiling, so I'm sure she it's all a consensual good time.

Anonymous said...

I don't know... I've always been a fan of his movies. (Kidding).

May said...

Yeah, this definitely seems a waste of energy. It's like a best friend who can't stop hating your ex long after you've moved on... or something.

Great post and perspective.

Anonymous said...

I'm still not understanding what his behavior at a party has to do with his job. I know he can't be involved in anything totally scandalous, but isn't it really unfair to fire him for something he did OUTSIDE OF WORK?

Jezebel said...

Anonymous, many of the arguments that I've seen seem to just be 'this was really sexist so Obama should fire him to show that sexist behavior is unacceptable'. But I've also seen people claiming that the picture demonstrates Favreau's lack of respect for women, so it creates a hostile work environment for the women that he works with.