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April 2013 Update | A federal judge this week ordered the Obama administration to end its opposition to over-the-counter Plan B. In response, White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s position.

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February 2012 | President Obama’s daughters are just thirteen and ten, but the guy just can’t stop talking about the possibility they’ll be romantically inclined someday, and about how much that fact freaks him out.

Just yesterday, when he was visiting the Master Lock factory in Wisconsin, Obama joked that the company’s industrial “super locks” might “come in handy” for him as “the father of two girls who are soon to be in high school.” For now, he added, he’s “counting on the fact that when they go to school there are men with guns with them.”


And this isn’t the only time he’s made that kind of joke.

Two years ago, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he told the Jonas Brothers  that his daughters were “huge fans.” He then warned the singing group not to “get any ideas” because he controls an arsenal of predator drones.

Last year, speaking at a Tennessee high school’s commencement, he noted that the school’s principal’s daughter had chosen to go to a different school because she “was worried that the boys would be afraid to talk to her if her mom was lurking in the hallways.” Because of this, he said, he’d decided to announce that his “next job will be principal at Sasha and Malia’s high school — and then I’ll be president of their college.”

A few months later a reporter, noting that he’d given the girls a puppy when he first won the presidency, asked what he’d get them if he won re-election. He replied that he’d “be getting them a continuation of Secret Service so that when boys want to start dating them, they are going to be surrounded by men with guns.”

These jokes are freaking creepy. Set aside the fact that Obama’s predator drones are estimated to have killed more than a hundred innocent children. Set aside the fact that Obama was joking about three men aged seventeen, twenty, and twenty-two “getting ideas” about girls who were then eight and eleven years old. Set aside the inappropriateness of a father meddling in the romantic decisions of his college age kids. (And set aside as well the casual, ugly assertion that his daughters will be interested in, and only interested in, “boys.”)

The biggest problem with all these jokes is that at their core they’re not really jokes.

When the Obama administration overruled the FDA’s scientists and policymakers on expanding morning-after pill access for teenagers last December, he said he endorsed the decision “as the father of two daughters,” and claimed that “most parents” would agree with him. Though he claimed that the decision was based on the possibility of “a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old” being able to “buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect … alongside bubble gum or batteries,” the fact is that drugstores are filled with over-the-counter medications far more dangerous than Plan B, any one of which any ten-year-old can buy without restriction.

What makes the morning-after pill different is that it allows teenage girls to take control of their own sexual decisions and those decisions’ consequences. The mentality that says that “most parents” would want to deprive their daughters of that agency is the mentality that assumes that most parents fantasize about being the gatekeeper of who their daughters talk to in high school and college. It’s a mentality that jokes about using violence and the threat of violence to keep your daughters from becoming sexually active.

These jokes aren’t benign. With them, the president is normalizing a patriarchal, sexist, adversarial take on parenthood — and on fathering daughters specifically. (It’s not an accident that Michelle Obama doesn’t make these jokes, or that she instead jokes approvingly about her daughters’ crushes on the Secret Service agents who protect them.)

If Obama’s children were sons, he wouldn’t be talking about using industrial super locks on them when they got to high school. He wouldn’t be musing about his plans to keep his kids from talking to girls when they got to college. He wouldn’t be threatening Selena Gomez with predator drones. He just wouldn’t.

Being the father of daughters is complicated. It can be difficult. But a father’s job is to help his daughter to develop a strong, healthy sense of her own desires and her own boundaries, and the confidence to express them. A father’s job is to teach his daughter that she can and should be brave, and fearless, and take risks. A father’s job is to let his daughter know that he’s got her back. A father’s job is to let her know that what she’s going through is normal, and appropriate, and isn’t going to be a barrier to him continuing to be there for her. His job is to make it clear that his desire to protect her and keep her safe doesn’t mean that she needs to sneak around behind his back, to make it clear that she doesn’t need to stay a child forever, that she can and should and must go out and explore the world for herself.

I suspect Obama is a pretty good dad. But his blind spot on this stuff is doing real harm to other people’s daughters, and quite possibly his own.

He should cut it the hell out.

This morning the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of an eighth-grade girl who was strip-searched at school over suspicions that she was hiding prescription-strength Advil somewhere on her body.

The transcript of the arguments will be released later — and I’ll update this post when I have them — but reporters who were present describe the two sides’ attorneys staking out extremely different interpretations of the constitutional issues at stake.

Adam B. Wolf, representing the student, Savana Redding, said that schools must have “location specific” information to search inside a student’s underwear. Even if a student is suspected of hiding weapons or heroin, he said, a school has no right to conduct such a search without evidence that contraband is hidden on the student’s body.

The attorney for the school, on the other hand, said that the school would have been legally justified in conducting a body cavity search on Redding, if they considered it appropriate.

The Court’s ruling in the case is likely to come sometime in June.

4:15 pm update: The transcripts of the oral arguments have been posted (PDF). I’ll read and comment when I get the chance.

6:15 pm update: Reading the transcripts now. The Baltimore Sun badly misrepresented the school attorney’s response to the cavity search question. More later.

A former student has filed a lawsuit against Eastern Michigan University claiming that she was dismissed from a graduate program in counseling for refusing to “affirm or validate homosexual behavior within the context of a counseling relationship.”

At the start of this year, when she was nearing the end of her coursework at EMU, Julea Ward was engaged in a Counseling Practicum. Ward has religious objections to homosexuality, and when she discovered that one of her assigned clients was gay, she asked her professor whether she should see the client or have him reassigned. That question, she contends, set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to disciplinary proceedings and her removal from the program.

The university has declined to comment publicly on the case, but in a March 12 letter the chair of her disciplinary committee said that Ward had “by clear and convincing evidence” violated ethical standards requiring that counselors “avoid imposing values that are inconsistent with counseling goals” or engage in discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

A copy of Ward’s complaint, with various documents relating to the disciplinary charges, can be found in PDF form here.

Update: We analyze Ward’s suit and the conservative blogosphere’s response.

A new study of teen eating habits found that young vegetarians tend to eat healthier than meat-eaters, consuming fewer calories from fat. It found that young vegetarians are less likely to be overweight than their peers who eat meat, and that the vast majority of young vegetarians have ho history of binging, purging, or other forms of disordered eating. 

But here’s how Time magazine framed their story on the report:

“Is Vegetarianism a Teen Eating Disorder?”

Yup. Despite the evidence that most teen vegetarians make healthy choices in eating from both a nutritional and a behavioral perspective, Time chose to raise alarms that vegetarianism is itself an eating disorder.

What’s the basis for this claim? Well, it turns out that teen vegetarians aged 15-18, particularly those who don’t stick with vegetarianism over the long term, report higher incidences of certain eating disorders than those who have never tried a vegetarian diet. In one study of Minnesota teens, for instance, 25% of vegetarians said they’d taken weight pills or diuretics or vomited to lose weight in the past, as opposed to 10% of meat eaters.

This is an interesting finding, and if it’s backed up by other research it may suggest that a small — but significant — minority of teen vegetarians are at higher risk for eating disorders than their non-vegetarian peers.

But some or all of the effect may be explained by other factors. For instance, Time itself notes that vegetarians may be more sensitive to unhealthy eating habits, and thus more likely to report them to researchers. Perhaps some teens choose vegetarianism as a result of having become more conscious of their food choices after overcoming an eating disorder.

And since girls are more likely to (1) be vegetarians and (2) have eating disorders than boys, one would expect to find higher rates of eating disorders among vegetarians just because of gender, whether there was any correlation between the two issues or not. (One article suggests that in Britain girls are ten times as likely to be vegetarian as boys.)

Time‘s conclusions, in other words, are mostly without basis — even if one accepts the findings of the studies it relies on.

And the article doesn’t just mangle the science on vegetarianism, either. It takes gratuitous shots at non-vegetarian young people as well. It refers to vegetarianism as a “common teen fad,” for instance, and likens it to “experimenting with foolish things like dyeing your hair purple.”

Another “foolish thing” teens do, according to Time? “Going door-to-door for a political party.”


A high school student in Virginia’s Fairfax County has received a two-week suspension and a threat of expulsion … for taking her birth control pill at lunch.

Oakton High School considers bringing prescription drugs to school one of the most serious violations a student can commit — it brings a harsher punishment than use of heroin or LSD, and the same penalty as possession of a handgun on school property.

The student’s mother was aware of, and supportive of, her decision to go on the pill. Birth control pills are most effective if taken at the same time every day, and the student began taking them at lunch over the summer. Neither the student nor her mother was aware that the punishment for continuing to do so in the fall could be so severe.

The student faced a hearing before school officials on Thursday, and has yet to hear whether she will be expelled.

Thanks to Amplify Your Voice for the heads-up on this story.

August 5 update: Stephen Colbert ran a segment on the incident on Monday night’s Colbert Report.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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