Obama's 2nd term: Where the Women are(n't)

Image credit: NY Times

(Photo credit: White House)

In early January, the Obama administration released a photo (seen above, taken on or about December 29th) showing the President and some of his top aides gathered inside the Oval Office during a meeting about the fiscal cliff negotiations.

On January 8th the New York times published an article which was highly critical of the President's composition of inner circle members given an obvious lack of gender diversity (as evidenced in the photo released on Dec. 29th).

In response to the critical NYT piece, the Obama administration released a new photo (seen below) which depicted a different meeting of high level advisers, only this time three women were clearly visible in the photograph: Kathryn Ruemmler, Counsel to the President; Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Nancy-Ann DeParle, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy.

Photo released by White House in response to publication of critical NYT piece

 (Photo credit: White House)

Some of you may read this and think 'what's the big deal' since the "problem" was seemingly corrected by virtue of the second photo being released.....right? Well, not exactly because the release of the second photo is really just like slapping on a band-aid when you have a massive hemorrhage from a deep laceration.

We live in a world where images are incredibly powerful. Our entire media and advertising culture is based on the philosophy and practice of bombarding us with as many images as possible in order to be able to influence our consumer behavior. Therefore in a world such as this we need as many powerful images of powerful women as possible in order to counterbalance the weight of what seems like a vast ocean of destructive and demeaning portrayals of women.

How can we expect the young women who are growing up in this environment which is over-saturated with negative portrayals of women to desire to make positive and healthy choices in their lives, in particular when it has to do with their careers?

The future of any economy (regardless of whether it is developed or emerging) depends on advancement in the areas of science, math, technology and engineering. Sure, there are plenty of other valid career choices but the ones that move GDP curves out are those that are grounded in STEM and sadly the numbers of women at the top of those fields are dismally small.

We certainly don't help the matter by publishing photographs of serious men talking about serious matters and leaving out women altogether. For those of you who many not have noticed, in the original photo published on December 29th, there actually is a woman present. Her name is Valerie Jarrett, a Senior Adviser to the President and one of his closest friends/colleagues. Unfortunately, she is leaning up against the desk in the Oval Office with most of her figure completely obscured by one of the gentlemen pictured in front of her...with the exception of just a slight sliver of her pant leg which can be seen if you look really really hard.

You shouldn't have to strain that hard AT ALL to see a powerful, educated, articulate woman in a room of her peers. The more these types of images persist, the more you're going to have to strain to see powerful, educated and articulate women in the real world, whether it is in the seat of government, venture capital firms, operating rooms, or scientific circles. The numbers are already pretty small so if we strain any harder, I'm afraid it will mean that we have lost our vision as a society because at that point, we will have become completely blind.


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