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Secretary of State: A Woman’s Job, Huh?

My friend Megan Carpentier at Jezebel watches in horror as Carol Jenkins, president of the Women’s Media Center, reacts to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s pending arrival at Foggy Bottom by saying “Secretary of State has become the women’s spot — a safe expected place for women to be.” As Megan writes:

So the Secretary of State — our face to the world at large, and the first Cabinet member in the Presidential line of succession — is now a soft position? Get a grip! If by virtue of the fact that two of its last three incumbents were women it’s now a “girly” position, then we’re all contributing to the ghettoization of jobs by making them supposedly too easy for a man to do. Gross.

All true. There is, though, something at work behind Jenkins’ comment. Without getting too academic-left-y, part of the reason why diplomacy gets coded as feminine — arrgg I wish I knew how to write this without academic jargon — is because we basically operate in an unfortunate lexicographic paradigm of “hard” military power and “soft” everything-else power. From there it’s easy to see how unfortunate gender stereotypes can get mixed up in all this lazy thinking — if difficult to excuse.

The truth is there’s nothing “soft” about diplomacy, wherein you try to get the other fellow to do what you want. Madeleine Albright had the courage to go to Pakistan and denounce the Pakistani-allied Taliban in 1998 for “their despicable treatment of women and children and their general lack of respect for human dignity.” Try telling Richard “Bulldozer” Holbrooke that there’s something soft about forcing an end to ethnic cleansing. Was one of these activities more masculine or feminine than the other? It’s absurd to think in these terms.

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