Mr. President, the race for California attorney general isn’t a beauty contest

President Obama,

Today, when you endorsed California attorney general, Kamala Harris, at her fundraiser, you said:

“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.  She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country — Kamala Harris is here.”


I know you didn’t mean anything offensive by calling California attorney general, Kamala Harris, the “best-looking Attorney General in the country.” You probably thought you were being humorous or complimentary. You weren’t. Referring to Harris’s looks in support of her campaign shows how out of touch you are with the situation that women in America are in.

Women in America are constantly valued for how we look and not for what we do. This prejudice is something every female in America of every age has to deal with on some level every single day. For the President of the United States to refer to the attorney general’s looks is not a trivial thing. I wish it were.

Kamala Harris is California’s first female attorney general. The first one. Why do you have to call the first female AG the “best-looking?” It’s not funny. Not only are you the president, you’re the father of two daughters. You’re telling America and your own kids that you value Harris because of the way she looks. Would you ever consider introducing a male candidate as the “best-looking?” How men look is basically irrelevant when evaluating their performance. Unfortunately, the same is not true for women. Harris, the women of America, and your daughters deserve more respect and an equal playing field. When you called Harris “best-looking” today, you took that away from her. When Americans hear your words, they, too, will look at Harris and evaluate her appearance. If our daughters– and I have 3– hear you, they’ll get training to do the same thing. That training already exists everywhere around them. The last thing our children need is to hear their President focusing on the looks of a high ranking, female politician.

You need to understand this. It’s important. Women put you in office for a second term. Yet, it’s startling to me how few women you’ve appointed to power positions in your Administration. Your cabinet has more men playing starring roles than a Hollywood blockbuster movie.


Women make up 50% of the population yet we’re drastically under-represented in our U.S. government. In 2013, women are just 18% of the United States Congress. Throughout our history, only four women have held the office of Supreme Court Justice. There has never been a female President of the United States. Do you think a female president would introduce a female politician as “best-looking?” Or would she ever introduce a male politician that way, for that matter?

Right now, the U.S. has only five female governors, a low for this century. Harris has the chance be the first female governor of California. To get her there, it doesn’t help to have the U.S. President reduce the race for California attorney general to another beauty contest. That’s bad for women and bad for America.

Thanks for listening,

Margot Magowan

P.S. I’m crafting a summer reading list for you. I know you love books and some of these may help you understand this issue better.


8 thoughts on “Mr. President, the race for California attorney general isn’t a beauty contest

  1. I think your article is spot on, but why did you have to include a photo of AG Harris? That seems to undermine your point that her looks don’t matter.

    • Hi Tara,

      At first I put no photo, but then I thought, fuck that, you don’t have to hide b/c people are sexist and I added it. Harris is a public figure, she will run for governor. She should be able to be as public as any male candidate.


  2. “Would you [Obama] ever consider introducing a male candidate as the “best-looking?””

    Why, yes he would. Obama has complimented men on their looks multiple times.

    “As the nation continues debating just how sexist President Obama was yesterday for calling California attorney general Kamala Harris “brilliant,” “dedicated,” and “by far, the best looking attorney general,” it’s worth adding this context: Usually, when Obama says a high-ranking government official is “good-looking,” he’s referring to a man.

    Introducing HUD secretary Shaun Donovan last February, Obama declared, “There he is, the good-looking guy in the front here.”

    At a speech last March, Obama pointed out his secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, by calling him “a good-looking guy.”

    A couple of months ago, Obama gave a shout-out to the “outstanding Secretary of the Navy,” Ray Mabus. “There he is right there — the good-looking guy over at the end.”

    Obama even extended his favorite compliment to the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. “I have to say all of you look pretty good without your playoff beards,” Obama said during a White House ceremony. “They’re pretty good-looking guys without all that.”

    In short, Obama is an equal-opportunity flatterer, not a shallow, sexist pig. Calling people “good-looking” — men, women, Penguins — is just something he does. It’s almost a tic at this point. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”


    • Thank you. It was an interesting little short article. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that there can’t be equality in the way men and women are spoken of because of the accompanying baggage.

    • Hi Ted,

      As I tried to make clear in the 3 posts, commenting on women’s looks is different that commenting on men’s looks. Women are judged by their appearance. I believe Obama meant to be complimentary, and I’m glad to see these quotes, but his comment was inappropriate.


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