Back in June, there was a minor uproar after it was revealed via a tweet from Bloomberg News reporter Nancy Cook that longtime fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz was at the White House to shoot photos of President Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki for “an upcoming magazine profile.”
Former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany weighed in on the story at the time by pointing out how ridiculous it was fashion magazines such as Vogue and the like largely avoided doing stories about strong, powerful women who worked in the Trump administration but would then trip over themselves to cover women who worked under a Democratic administration like Biden’s.
Fast forward to this week, and that Vogue profile piece on Psaki has been published, and while it was indeed a predictable bit of fluff, there was one thing Psaki said in the interview that people are taking issue with and which warrants further discussion.
The article started off with the headline “Press Secretary Jen Psaki is Good At Mending Fences. Just Don’t Call Her Nice,” which confirmed it was going to be another fawning media piece portraying a Democratic woman as tough as nails and who is blazing her own trail, yada yada.
At one point in the piece, Psaki described how it was working as a spokeswoman (for the State Dept.) and then the comms director for the White House under the Obama-Biden administration and how the way some Obama-era staffers treated the press harshly was “never going to be comfortable to me.” Vogue reporter Lizzie Widdicombe made sure to note, however, that Psaki’s desire to build “a more personable rapport” with reporters did not make her a pushover (bolded emphasis added):
She’s not a pushover, though. At one point, she tells me that she hates when people describe her as “nice.” “It is like nails on a chalkboard,” she says. “And it still happens. I was introduced to a foreign delegation in the hallway the other day as ‘This is Jen. You may have seen her do the briefings. She’s a really nice person.’ I’m like, Really? You can’t think of a better description?” The word is sexist and a little diminishing, but, she says, “it’s also this desire to put people in a box. Yes, sometimes I’m friendly and joyful, and sometimes I’m tough, and sometimes I’m straightforward.” After shadowing Psaki for a bit, I start to think that her real gift is her ability to be several of these things at the same time. Many of her cheerful quips are actually ways of shutting down a line of questioning.
— Kate Bennett (@KateBennett_DC) August 9, 2021
I’m sorry, but did I miss the memo from NOW and/or other supposed “feminist” groups on how a woman being referred to as “nice” should now be considered “sexist” and “diminishing”? In what way is it sexist and diminishing? Answer: It’s not unless you’re a woman in a position of power who is used to being coddled and being told “yes” to everything and believes she can do no wrong.
We’re close to reaching a point in this country where the only thing people will be allowed to say about women without being accused of “sexism” is that they are strong and independent and fierce, while simple words like “nice” and “kind” and, God-forbid, “pretty” and “classy” – words most women love to hear said about them – will be verboten.
Just from personal experience, I can tell you that in my line of work it’s not uncommon to receive a nastygram in email or in my Twitter mentions pretty much every week. It’s happened so often that I’ve gotten used to it, almost numb to it. Seeing the word “nice” or a similar word used to describe me would be a welcome change.
I’m sure I’m far from the only woman who feels that way.
Not only that but let’s face it: There is no shortage of rude people here in the U.S., and coming across someone who is nice (whether they be a man or a woman) can be very refreshing and a welcome relief on days where pretty much everyone else you’ve encountered has made a you-know-what out of themselves.
A lot has changed for women in a good way over the course of America’s existence because there were brave people who were willing to take a stand. But some positions are ridiculous and counterproductive and, in my opinion, set women back a couple of decades. Declaring “nice” as a “sexist’ term is one of those things.
This country is a fascinating place, and the relationships between women and men here are both complex and intriguing. We shouldn’t complicate matters further by putting up a fuss over the use of harmless words to describe all people – not just women – like “nice” which have no hidden, nefarious meanings whatsoever, no matter how much they may irritate Jen Psaki.