Malia and Sasha Obama were news-worthy just prior to Thanksgiving, when they were ridiculed and criticized by GOP staffer Elizabeth Lauten after the annual turkey pardoning ceremony. Using Facebook as her forum, Lauten laced into both girls, as well as their parents when she wrote, among other things “try showing a little class”, “then again your mother and father don’t respect their positions very much,” and “dress like you deserve respect, not a spot at a bar”. Lauten, a communications director for Tennessee Rep. Stephen Lee Fincher, received a great deal of criticism when her posting was widely disseminated and even though she apologized publicly, she resigned from her position.
Can Lauten’s initial posting be considered a highly publicized case of cyberbullying? It appears so. She clearly took more than one swipe at two teenaged girls, stating that they acted disrespectfully in public, dressed provocatively, lack manners and do so because their own parents also lack manners. Had this been a one-line suggestive zinger, perhaps Lauten could laugh off this posting. Rather, she piled on verbal barbs and even leveled sexist commentary at these girls.
Cyberbullying may be seen more often as a tool of teens and tweens, even college students, who make petty and nasty commentary of their peers. Yet this could be viewed as an even more disturbing version of cyber-bullying in that an adult has made mean-spirited remarks about youngsters who are not her peers. Even worse, there is the tinge of sexism emanating from a woman with a job in communications. We have to wonder what Lauten was thinking, that she made such brazen and obnxious comments to girls.
There is a sad history of people in the media making fun of girls who are the daughters of presidents. Rush Limbaugh made on-air comments about both Amy Carter and Chelsea Clinton. Of Amy Carter, Limbaugh said she was “the most unattractive presidential daughter in the history of the country.” Even though he made this statement in 1988, years after Amy Carter was no longer a child and no longer living in the White House, the needless venom in this quote strikes a blow of disrespect. And on TV in 1992 Limbaugh made snide comments about Chelsea Clinton, airing photographs of a dog when he meant to show photos of the President’s daughter.
Why do grown adults feel the need to belittle children, especially girls? To whom are they appealing, with this type of trash talk? Why do they make such commentary public and well-publicized, knowing the hurt they can cause not only to a particular family but also to girls in general, who are so often teased for their clothing and their appearance? Lauten should be ashamed of herself and so should anyone else who makes fun of the First Family for their physical appearance.