Gains for Women in the Obama Administration

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Soon after Barack Obama’s election, women’s groups voiced concerns that prominent cabinet and advisory appointments would, as usual, go mostly to men. But the announcements of Obama’s national security and foreign policy teams have put at least some of those fears to rest.

As A.J. Rossmiller points out in a recent essay for the New Republic, Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, Janet Napolitano to head the Department of Homeland Security, and Susan Rice as ambassador to the U.N. represent important gains for women in policy areas traditionally dominated by men.

Just how shut out of these jobs have women been? Very. According to Rossmiller, “in the 318 total years those positions have been occupied, women have held them for 16.” If Michele Flournoy joins the administration as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, as has been speculated, these four women can match that threshold in a single term, he adds.

Even more noteworthy, says Rossmiller, is that these appointments have been welcomed “by a collective public yawn”:

Government positions dealing with war-fighting, tough negotiations, and security have for too long been off limits to women, due to prejudice and stereotypes, as well as structural impediments such as military restrictions against women serving in combat positions, a common path for upward mobility in these fields. But despite these long-lasting barriers, no one now questions the toughness or capabilities of these women.

In perhaps another sign of the times, the appointments of Clinton, Napolitano, and Rice were made soon after Ann Dunwoody became the first woman to achieve the rank of four-star general in the U.S. Army. 

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