In the context of the loud debates on misogyny, rape and other anti-women trends in the U.S., President Barack Obama could not have picked a worse moment to offer California Attorney General and American of Indian descent Kamala Harris a compliment on her appearance.
Speaking at a private fundraising event at the home of philanthropist and Levi Strauss heir John Goldman, Mr. Obama introduced Ms. Harris to the audience there saying, “You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake.”
He then went on to add, “She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country... It's true. Come on. And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years.”
His remarks immediately came under fire from numerous quarters for indulging in what some labelled sexist banter, including on social media. Jonathan Chait of N.Y. Magazine said Mr. Obama’s remark was “disgraceful,” adding, “Women have a hard time being judged purely on their merits... Discussing their appearance in the context of evaluating job performance makes it worse.”
Writing for Slate magazine Amanda Marcotte delved deeper into the context of what she described as “benevolent sexism,” as she quoted a research study arguing that benevolent sexism is highly correlated with hostile sexism in cross-cultural comparisons.