Bigot of the Week Award: May 18, Safeway General Counsel Robert Gordon

18 May

Bigot of the Week

In a shocking display of misogyny, Robert A. Gordon, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Safeway Inc. easily earned this week’s BWA. At the shareholders meeting on May 15, Gordon opened his remarks with a “joke” in which President Obama lugs pigs to the White House to give to Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. The hypothetical punch line has a Secret Service agent indicating that the pigs are more valuable than the women. Ha ha ha.

Setting aside the not-so-subtle racism inherent in the setup, the culmination of this story and the expectation that it would make his audience laugh, says volumes about Gordon. That he felt comfortable sharing this tale in front of a corporate audience demonstrates how undervalued women are in that environment. Comparing two of the most powerful women in America to farm animals is nothing short of loathsome.

But of course he felt safe. Only 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women, who make less than 70% of what their male counterparts do. Ten percent of these companies still have all-male boards of directors (Safeway has an amazing one woman on their board.)

I wonder how the (few) women in the audience felt. Certainly none have come forward to complain, even though Safeway has a code of ethics which Gordon’s hateful speech violated. No comment yet from the company, either. Please let Safeway know how you feel about this kind of behavior.

24 Responses to “Bigot of the Week Award: May 18, Safeway General Counsel Robert Gordon”

  1. Barbara Luepke May 18, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    I sent an email to Safeway expressing my outrage over this and here is a portion of their reply:
    Our general counsel intended to poke fun at the Secret Service and no one else. We realize his comments could be interpreted as critical of others, and for that we sincerely apologize.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 18, 2012 at 7:46 am #

      I’m so glad you sent them an email. I’m not particularly impressed with the quasi apology. His comments reflect such white male privilege. Thank you for commenting here–I really appreciate it.

  2. William May 18, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    I’d like to see him tell that joke at an inner city P.T.A meeting

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 18, 2012 at 7:49 am #

      I seriously doubt he has ever been to a PTA meeting, for I fear he would look upon that as “women’s work.” But great point!

  3. katybrandes May 18, 2012 at 8:43 am #

    I tweeted @Safeway this morning with my disgust. It falls on “deaf ears,” I’m sure, but it made me feel better!

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 18, 2012 at 8:53 am #

      Fantastic! Will you please let us know if they respond? I shall post any responses received from Safeway.

      • katybrandes May 20, 2012 at 8:44 am #

        No reply to my tweet or email as of yet — no surprise!

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 20, 2012 at 8:47 am #

        Neither here and not surprised. Let us hope Safeway will take some type of action against him.

  4. nevercontrary May 18, 2012 at 7:31 pm #

    I fear many women who support those men feel the same way about strong amazing women and back up those terrible comments. I for one know it is jealousy and the need to constantly remind everyone you are better in case they forgot. I work with a man that does it to me so often others have noticed and said something to me. I only wish they would say something to him. But he would just say he was not doing it. Sorry for the side rant.

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm #

      Bonnie, you point to exactly why it was necessary to publish this article. Men like this fool need to be exposed!

  5. Phil May 20, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    Erm… it looks like you all did not follow the joke.

    The joke, funny or not, is attempting at humor by presenting a trade that everyone, joke teller and audience included, knows is completely ridiculous, and then having a character in the joke (the SS agent whose gender is not stated, by the way) make the “humorous” misstep of assuming the ridiculous exchange actually occurred.

    The joke doesn’t target the politicians, or the president, or the pigs. It is targeting the SS agent. The agent is the only one in the joke doing anything stupid.

    The joke only works if the hypothetical trade for the pigs is blatantly ludicrous. If the president said he traded his old socks for two pigs, it would be confusing. “Good trade, sir” might actually be an appropriate response, and so it’s not really a joke anymore, it becomes a very dull fictional story.

    Instead the *joke* is structured by selecting clearly valuable and important politicians as the mistaken exchange for the pigs, so that when the SS agent (acting under previously mentioned orders to agree with the POTUS…. Why do you think Gordon opens with that note?) says “Good trade, sir”, it’s clear that the agent has assumed something that is flat out silly, but is making an effort to agree anyway. That’s why it’s a joke, the agent has now assumed something idiotic.

    In this light, one could make the argument that using Pelosi and Clinton in the joke is actually casting the politicians in a favorable light… They have to be iconic, important people so that the audience knows the misunderstood trade is ridiculous.

    Now that you understand how the joke works, and how it is pretty obviously not attacking anyone, maybe you can see why the rest of us don’t find this newsworthy.

    • bluepke May 20, 2012 at 11:28 am #

      Baloney! If it had nothing to do with disrespecting powerful Democratic women, why not say the exchange was for Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman? It’s obvious that is guy is a Right-Wing nutjob who respects only men and money.

      • Phil May 20, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

        bluepke, one could make an argument that because Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman have a somewhat more tarnished reputation in the public eye, the joke wouldn’t work as well.

        Did you read my second-to-last paragraph? It is crucial for the joke to select *important* and *valuable* people to make the agent’s mistake obvious and ironic. The selection of Pelosi and Clinton is actually a compliment, and you have interpreted a compliment as an insult because you did not understand the irony of the joke, then you proceed to throw a series of insults at someone you and I don’t know.

        Is this a way to have rational discourse and discussion?

    • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm #


      With your comment, I’m guessing you are a white male that has no clue of your own power and privilege.

      • Phil May 20, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

        Michael, thank you for your constructive comment. Oh wait, you were just putting me down. That is not a polite way to have a conversation with someone.

        Since you address none of the points I brought up in my post, thus not furthering the discussion at all, I will leave it at that.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 20, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

        I did not realize it was a “put down” to address your power and privilege.

      • Phil May 20, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

        Michael I also recall in the “About” section of this blog, you write:

        I encourage people to contribute to this blog and share ideas. All I ask is that everyone be respectful.

        How is you putting me down for disagreeing with your post “respectful”? I welcome discussion and the sharing of ideas, even those I do not personally agree with, but I do think you should follow your own rules.

      • Michael Hulshof-Schmidt May 20, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

        Again, how is pointing out your power and privilege a “put down?” I will say it is rather condescending of you to tell us what we are to acknowledge as a joke and then you dare us to be offended.

      • Phil May 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

        You are generalizing me and stereotyping me without knowing anything about me. Do you dismiss the logic of my post simply because you have conjured up assumptions about my personal life?

        Also, saying I have “no clue” is like saying I am oblivious and a fool. If you say that is not a put down, how can you possibly interpret the original joke of this article as sexist?

    • penguinlad May 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

      Sorry, Phil, your analysis just doesn’t work. Even assuming that Gordon’s intent was to make the agent the butt of the joke (and his “sorry you were offended non-apology” makes that remotely possible), it’s still tasteless and sexist.

      It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the story is supposed to be funny because of the comparison of the women to pigs. Your claim that it only works as a joke if the trade is ludicrous doesn’t make any sense. Given the hostility directed at both Clinton and Peolosi by many on the right and in corporate America, it’s very reasonable to assume that they are the intended targets and the agent is window dressing.

      The non-joke was a bad idea all around; Gordon is, at the very least, guilty of lousy judgment and poor taste. He deserves the backlash and should have offered a more thoughtful and sincere response.

      As an aside, any joke that requires the intercession of a third party and an explanation that’s longer than the joke itself is a pretty bad idea to start with, no matter what its content…

      • Phil May 20, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

        Hi penguinlad, thank you (I’m not being sarcastic this time) for the rational response.

        There are some things that you’ve said that I agree with.

        For one, yes, the joke was a bad idea. And naturally everyone knows that having to explain a joke (or needing someone else to explain it) never makes for good comedy. I agree with you that the judgment was certainly less than ideal.

        However I cannot agree that the joke is inherently sexist. As people have mentioned above, the people who are the mistaken bargaining chips are interchangeable and have been so since the joke’s origin over 20 years ago. In the past it has been Republican men. If the joke works regardless of the political affiliation or gender of the mistaken trade pieces, how can the joke be sexist?

        If the joke mentioned gender, which it doesn’t, or even political affiliation specifically, which it doesn’t, then I would say you have a case. It mentions neither, however, and so people instead have jumped to their own conclusions about what the intent was.

        Although you may not be personally satisfied with Gordon’s apology, it is difficult for anyone to apologize to people who have gotten upset because they have misunderstood something. How does one apologize for something that he or she did not actually do? We see this politics all the time, on both party lines; political figures apologizing if people misunderstood what they were saying. I’m not saying I like it, but I understand it.

        I apologize if my explanation on why the trade must be ludicrous did not make any sense; allow me to try again.

        Suppose the POTUS had intended to give the pigs to, for some reason, his friend’s dog. Would it be amusing if the SS Agent, acting under orders to agree with the president, assumed that when the president said he got the pigs “for” his friend’s dog that it was an exchange, not a gift? Perhaps it’s conceivable that the president would trade a dog for a pig. That may be a scenario where there could be some reasonable confusion about the meaning of the key word “for”. This confusion would exist for both the characters in the joke as well as the audience… and would result in just a tale of someone taking a 50-50 shot at an assumption and choosing correctly.

        Instead the joke takes that 50-50 scenario and makes it 100-0 in favor of the “gift” meaning by positioning the “for” before two renowned and important publicly-known figures. Thus when the SS Agent thinks that the word “for” meant “in exchange for”, but dismisses his notion of “the POTUS could not possibly mean that” due to his or her orders to agree, the agent continues with that line of thinking which results in the humorously and obviously incorrect statement, “Good trade sir.”

        As I’m typing this, I’m thinking to myself, if someone wanted to say certain politicians are worth no more than pigs, wouldn’t they just say it?

        Anyway, penguinlad, thank you again for taking a rational approach to your reply. I always enjoy a rational discussion with an intelligent person, even if we do not agree on all issues.

  6. Gala May 23, 2012 at 10:39 am #

    Just because Gordon “apologized” doesn’t mean that he changed his mind overnight. I am not going to do my shopping in Safeway anytime soon. I apologize for the short message.
    Sincerely, longtime Safeway customer..

  7. Sarah in Texas June 1, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Thank you for posting this! I just saw the video and emailed them too.

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