Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Women's Group Not Hot on Summers

By Garance Franke-Ruta
A group founded by supporters of former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) weighed in today against the potential appointment by President-elect Barack Obama of former Clinton administration Treasury Secretary Larry Summers to the same position in an Obama administration.

"Larry Summers has a clear and unequivocal record of sexism and misogyny," said the group's co-founder Amy Siskind in a statement. "Summers' work history demonstrates a clear inability to work well with others, especially women."

Another founding member of the group, The New Agenda, which has taken pro-Sarah Palin stands in the past and advocated against media sexism during the primary, is Dr. Nancy Hopkins of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Hopkins famously clashed with Summers at a January 2005 MIT forum on women in the sciences after Summers, who was then president of Harvard University, said that the paucity of women in the hard sciences might be a reflection of their "intrinsic aptitude."

Summers has repeatedly apologized for causing offense at that meeting, starting days after making his remarks, when he wrote in an open letter to the University community, "I deeply regret the impact of my comments and apologize for not having weighed them more carefully."

Nonetheless, Summers' comments ultimately led to such a widespread controversy that -- coupled with other faculty concerns -- he was subjected to "lack of confidence" and censure votes by the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences and ultimately stepped down from his post in 2006.

Summers, an economist, is currently a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. He did not immediately respond to an e-mail and phone call request for comment.

The New Agenda is also seeking to tie Summers to the current financial crisis, arguing that during his tenure at Treasury he failed to heed the warnings of former chairwoman of the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Brooksley E. Born, who sought to warn Summers, Robert Rubin and Alan Greenspan in 1998 of the risks of unregulated derivatives.

The Post, in an October piece looking at the origins of the financial crisis, highlighted Summers's push-back against Born's attempts, reporting, "A decade ago, long before the financial calamity now sweeping the world, the federal government's economic brain trust heard a clarion warning and declared in unison: You're wrong."

"Why would Summers have listened to her? She's a woman," wrote Siskind on her blog in mid-October.

The nonpartisan New Agenda expressed disappointment with the National Organization of Women when NOW endorsed Barack Obama in September and includes a number of prominent supporters of Sen. John McCain, perhaps decreasing the likelihood the Obama-administration-in-waiting would heed its warnings.

However, NOW president Kim Gandy yesterday also expressed concern about a possible Summers appointment in an Obama administration, suggesting there may be a deeper current of anxiety over the economist within women's groups.

"It's very important that whoever is in key positions understands the importance of women to this economy -- and that the impact of wage inequality for women has bearing on the overall economic inequality in our society," Gandy told the Huffington Post. "I don't see [this] on the agendas of most of the candidates being suggested. While Larry Summers has talked about income inequality, he doesn't seem to get it that a lot of that is related to the wage gap between men and women."

By Web Politics Editor  |  November 6, 2008; 11:23 AM ET
Categories:  Cabinet , Transition  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Murray Reflects on Obama Campaign
Next: Ogden Will Lead Justice Dept. Transition


If you are troubled by the thought of Larry Summers being further empowered as our Treasury Secretary, please sign this petition,

Or visit and send Barak Obama a message about your concerns. If Obama appoints this misogynist, it will be a slap in the face to the women who elected him to be our president. Our nation took a great stride forward last week. Let's keep it going in the right direction!

Posted by: strangeattractor | November 11, 2008 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Is this a joke? Amy Siskind held a press conference denouncing Barack Obama and her group has backed Sarah Palin. Why on earth would her opinion matter on whether Larry Summers is a good economist?

Poor Summers has gotten a terribly bum rap. The guy has apologized twenty five different ways from Sunday for saying anything that could be perceived as discouraging to women.

We need to get a grip on the fact that treasury secretary is one of the most crucial economic roles in the new administration.

There must be a better place to play gotcha identity politics than in messing around with solving the financial crisis.

Posted by: econfan | November 10, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse

"Tens of millions of voters whose votes appeared in obama's column were not even voting for him, but against the Bush economy; and most of the rest didn't know what or who they were voting for, they just wanted to elect a black man, or were bullied into doing so"

And 10's of millions of idiots like you would vote for an idiological illiterate right wing demogauge like Palin. Do you have ANY idea what she stands for or is she "just like you" - how quaint. And if she is "just like you" you must be a fear mongering radical conservative as well. Scary!!!!!!!!!!!
hope she learns basic grammar before she runs again - but I betcha she's going to just disappear into the great white North. That is - after she got taxed on the clothes.
If you had any brains you would realize that she actually LOST the race for McCain more than anything. But how dare you say that MY vote or anyone elses was anything other than a whole-hearted vote for Obama!

Posted by: Annab1 | November 8, 2008 7:46 PM | Report abuse

I am an ardent supporter of Obama.

However, I disagree with kmcnyasha very much about the grudge issue. Summer's past actions were not just against women but against a variety of women and minority scholars. He took it on himself to challenge brillant Harvard scholar Cornel West - who wound up going to Princeton, for instance.

But his personality issues are just part of the problem. The fact that he was a leader of the faction the ignored the derivatives issue should disqualify him immediately. Don't disappoint me on this Obama!!!!

And for all you Obama haters that are going to criticize him for anything - just go home - give the guy a chance to create his administration at least. Go count Palin's clothes or something ...

Posted by: Annab1 | November 8, 2008 7:39 PM | Report abuse

kmcnyasha, by definition he cannot be a fine economist when his attitudes toward women prevent him from understanding the special economic difficulties of more than 54% of the population -- the female 54%. Women and women-headed households are in much worse shape thanks to his bone-headed policies in the past; we certainly don't need more of the same.

And the vast majority of Americans do not "adore" Obama. Obots like yourself are, thankfully, relatively small in number. Tens of millions of voters whose votes appeared in obama's column were not even voting for him, but against the Bush economy; and most of the rest didn't know what or who they were voting for, they just wanted to elect a black man, or were bullied into doing so.

OTOH 57 million people explicitly voted against obama's inexperience and lies, and for the McCain/Palin ticket of experience, honor, and effective government. So those of us who don't trust Obama represent a much larger and more diverse group than those of you who "adore" him.

Palin 2012!

Posted by: JBinVA | November 7, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Summers is a serial mysogynist who deserves no place in the governing of our country which is more than 50% women. He obviously is threatened by intelligent women and needs to cut them down. Our country is full of women who could do a better job than he would. However, with the campaign of Obama, a dark period for women has descended on our country. Sexism was used as a tool to take out competent candidates and was accepted by Obama supporters and NEVER denounced by Obama. If it is done in your name, you OWN it. Dark times are ahead for our mothers, sisters, daughters, etc....

Posted by: JudyR1 | November 7, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Our new President needs all of our support to form the best cabinet he can find in these troubled times. Summers certainly has the experience to handle the job, but does have that personality flaw that is troubling to women.

But we have learned during the campaign that certain forms of prejudice are forbidden, others are OK. If the women's groups were really concerned about gender discrimination, where were their voices during the campaign? They not only laughed at female jokes against the only woman candidate, but actively campaigned against her -- partly because she was a woman!

Being a "women's organization" is not a part time job. If you want to support another agenda, change your name.

Posted by: tommariner | November 7, 2008 6:47 AM | Report abuse

Does anyone really believe that it will be possible for Barack Obama to find candidates for each of his many, many appointments with vast knowledge, experience and obvious brilliance in their given fields who, at the same time, have perfect track records with no history of mistakes or controversy EVER and who will be acceptable to a broad range of special interest groups? Listen to yourselves! There is one inescapable criterion for each of these appointments: that each must be a human being.

Posted by: lisaud | November 6, 2008 9:56 PM | Report abuse

The conversation on Summers is overlooking perhaps his most serious flaw for Treasury - his cover up of the unethical behavior in Harvard's efforts to help Russia create a capitalist system, and his years of fighting against charges by the US government on behalf of his colleague, Andrei Shleifer, at huge expense to Harvard and the US taxpayer. This affair shows a tremendous ethical failing that directly relates to what his role would be as Treasury head (much more so than the, arguably irrelevant to this, women-in-science comments). The mainstream media, W Post included, is really missing the story. Here's a story explaining part of the downfall, and the Feb 2006 Institutional Investor has the full investigation, which is very damning.

Posted by: Arlington7 | November 6, 2008 9:47 PM | Report abuse

The New Agenda. The radical idea that women are the underrepresented majority. Awesome. Women in power, by any means necessary.

Obama now has carte blanche to build his perfect Heterosexual Abrahamic Male (HAM) Boys' Club.

Feminists have been telling people all along, "Obama is NOT a feminist." His sexism is obvious.

Even if it's not Summers (who is an evil fascist) it will be another man.

Here is your feminist president post-feminists. Congratulations.

Posted by: outwrong | November 6, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

I am not surprised. But, I am surprised women voted for OBAMA (period). He has the same attitudes toward women as ODINGA, his cousin.

Posted by: mjno | November 6, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Great to hear from the New Agenda group, a reasoned group of women from all points on the spectrum who advocate for women's issues and for women in public life.
Amy Siskind is the kind of leader we need now, who can bring the kind of change sorely lacking in our current and newly elected leaders. They seem content to leave women on the sidelines, and display a real tone-deafness to sexism (the "monster" name-caller and Summers are the best we can do?)
That's not change we can believe in. Sad to see a mostly male slate of high appointees on the horizon. This election sent a none-to-subtle signal that female-bashing is fine, just a part of tough national politics. Women can and must overcome this blatant sexism and should go to to help assemble a list of names for the Boyz Klub now coming to power. Yes, we can! Step up ladies, they are trying to leave you behind.

Posted by: OrlandoNan | November 6, 2008 3:29 PM | Report abuse

kmcnyahsa --
you may adore Obama. While a slight majority of Americans voted for him, I don't think you can claim that we all adore Obama.

Being adored does not give him a free pass. As president elect, Obama must be accountable for his actions. If we can not criticize our president, we are no longer a free society. It's time for Obama deliver on the "hope, change, and equality for women" that he promised.

Comments (and actions) such as those perpetuated by Summers have a devastating impact on women and especially girls who are considering careers in science / engineering. Appointing him to a high post simply excuses those comments. This is unacceptable.

Obama's campaign committed numerous misogynist attacks during the primaries and elections. He did not stand up when misogynist attacks were made against his female opponents by the media and his supporters. He does not practice equal pay for equal work in his own senate staff. I have yet to see Obama walk the walk on the issues of gender equality. Rejecting Summers would be a start.

Posted by: ttald | November 6, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

As a woman (who supported Obama all along) I'm not impressed with Summers's statements about women's brains, but I'm much more concerned about his record as a deregulator in the 90's. Arguably he did a lot to bring about the current mess in our financial system. The last thing we need is to bring him back for an encore.

Posted by: csdiego | November 6, 2008 2:19 PM | Report abuse

Let's not get into those sisters of North or South, right or left, educated, unedcated, rich and poor, we are talking about ALL American women. We've got to move on and ahead. People like Summers need to get out of the way! He held a high position, and we just can't continue to award him with higher level positions when
he did nothing to solve women's problems, but rather he smacked his words and his beliefs with sexism.

He should not get the job, if it is offered, he should refuse! You see, we are watching very carefully, this new adminstration, the media, organizations, because everday people like me want to see

Posted by: electress | November 6, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Before these so-called "womens groups" start throwing stones they should look to their own house: southern white women routinely oppose equal pay and the rest of the moral, progressive agenda.

If women get their own house in order, then they'll have incredible political power. Right now it's a slight majority of northern white women - in alliance with black, latino and asian women - that make up the so-called "womens movement".

Y'all need to have that "come to Jesus talk" with your southern sisters.

Posted by: jrob822 | November 6, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

While Summers is characterize as a bully by many, he has a pattern of singling women out for especially harsh treatment and dismissal:

1)Summers yanked control of one of Harvard’s largest federal grants from Dr. Phyllis Kanki, head of the Harvard School of Public Health and a recognized AIDS researcher. Summers essentially deemed Dr. Kanki too incompetent to direct the grant; according to news reports, “Summers was concerned about potential risks—lawsuits and the possibility of AIDS drugs hitting the black market—especially since he wasn't controlling the grant.”

Summers delayed acceptance of the grant while he devised his plan to take control of the grant from Kanki. Summers eventually appointed New York City lawyer, Mark Barnes, to direct the grant and ordered Kanki to report to Barnes. Granted, Barnes is an experienced administrator for domestic AIDS programs, but he was neither a doctor nor knowledgeable in international AIDS relief and research.

By contrast, Kanki is an international respected HIV researcher; she identified a new family of HIV; she successful managed AIDS prevention grants from the Gates Foundation; and she created “novel and highly successful strategy of differential interventions among different groups.” The grant was to combat AIDS in several African counties—much of the same type of work she very successfully completed in West Africa.

2) Dismissed as “stupid” a female faculty member’s justification for moving departments to Allston, MA. Summers insulted the professor at a meeting of approximate 80 law school professors. Some of the professors perceived Summers as dismissing the faculty member as well as her suggestion

3) Professor Mary C. Waters, chairwoman of the sociology department and group of female faculty members met with Summers to discuss the sharp decline in the recruitment of tenure female faculty. While Summers later contacted one of the professors who spoke at the meeting to say he wanted to explore her concerns, many believed Summers did not take their concerns seriously.

Posted by: jandcgall1 | November 6, 2008 12:27 PM | Report abuse

We women need to quit holding a grudge against Summers for the time he misspoke about female scientists. He clearly does not believe that statement, and has apologized profusely. Anyone who would look at his background would realize that both women and men in his family are renowned economists.

Larry Summers is one of the best economists in the country, despite his enormous ego. We saw with the Bush administration how dangerous it is to hire incompetent people for reasons other than their professional credentials. The country needs the best minds to run our government during the worst economic crisis since the depression. We already have a President-elect whom we like (more precisely, we adore him)-- but we don't have to like all of the people he hires. We just need to respect their professional qualifications.

Posted by: kmcnyasha | November 6, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company