Not OK: Elizabeth Lauten's totally inappropriate bashing of Sasha and Malia
It’s likely that you’ve already seen the various articles discussing the supposedly embarrassed grimaces on Sasha and Malia Obama’s faces during the President’s annual Thanksgiving pardoning of the turkeys. The two teenagers stood by as their dad carried through the time-honored (if a bit corny) tradition of pardoning two turkeys from the dinner table. The teens were there, they laughed occasionally, had normal resting face occasionally, listened attentively, were dressed like two teenagers, and did their first daughter duties. Sure, they weren’t beaming throughout the entire event — but hey, who says they needed to be?
Elizabeth Lauten, for one. The GOP staffer had quite a bit to say on the girls and totally crossed the line in the process. Lauten, the communications director for Tennessee Representative Steve Fincher, wrote a post on her Facebook page directed at the Obama girls, advising them to be more “respectful” and “classy”:
Lauten’s “advice” drew criticism almost immediately. Lauten issued an apology statement on Saturday, assuring everyone that she regretted what she had said. “I reacted to an article and quickly judged the two young ladies in a way that I would never have wanted to be judged myself as a teenager,” writes Lauten. “After many hours of prayer, talking to my parents and re-reading my words online, I can see more clearly how hurtful my words were. Please know that these judgmental feelings truly have no pace in my heart. Furthermore, I’d like to apologize to all of those who I have hurt and offended with my words, and pledge to learn and grow (and I assure you I have) from this experience.”
The comments, and the deserved backlash, resulted in Lauten formally resigning from her position today.
Though Lauten apologized for her actions (a little too late, it would seem), the situation really highlights a bigger issue: under no circumstances should we be dragging kids (kids!) into the public arena for criticism. Sasha and Malia are 13 and 16 years old and Lauten even admitted that she would never have wanted someone to judge her like that as a teenager. Many adults choose to be in the public eye — most kids do not. Sasha and Malia certainly did not.
There are so many things wrong with what Lauten wrote. First, bullying the President’s daughters for their comportment at a turkey pardoning is ridiculous and really quite low-hanging fruit. Second, shaming them for not smiling is a little too close to the sexist expectation that women should always have a smile plastered on their faces. Third, why would you direct anger at the President towards his two children? We could keep going. The situation also echoes the public mockery of Jaden and Willow Smith after their New York Times interview. Again, let’s stop publicly shaming kids and teens.
For our part, our teenage years took place far from a national stage. Sasha and Malia don’t have the luxury of complete privacy. Sure their dad is the President (which probably sounds a lot cooler than it is), but there is probably a massive amount of pressure that comes with constant scrutiny and (we repeat) they’re only 13 and 16 years old. From where we sit, they’re doing a pretty kickass job at being the first daughters. In sum: picking on them is really just bullying. Simple as that. And bullying is never the right or appropriate answer — especially when it’s grown up humans picking on kids.