The Pink Pentagon

Has Foggy Bottom become the pink Pentagon? It now seems that it will be a routine part of every presidential administration — or at least of their supporters — for the next couple of cycles to tout its advanced thinking on gender issues by pointing to its high-level appointment of a woman to the position of Secretary of State.

Two out of the last three Secretaries of State have been women (Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice). Candidate Obama seemed to have Samantha Power on the Secretary of State shortlist and now it seems as if Senator Clinton is on the way there, purportedly to mollify her female supporters by providing the Senator with some role.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon remains an impenetrable bastion of masculinity. And not just men, but manly men. Donald Rumsfeld practically snorted puffs of superheated testosterone out his nose. Not only are women inconceivable, but apparently even so effeminate as Democrats at large are no longer allowed at the Department of Defense. President Clinton selected a Republican to head the Pentagon (William Cohen) and President-elect Obama has rumors emanating that he will retain Secretary Gates for a period, or of Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense.

Nominating a woman to run the Pentagon would cause a political firestorm of retrograde gender imaginings, still lurking just below the surface. It will be the true, last hold out against female equality.

The two institutions have both obviously become overloaded with psychological meaning. The State Department, with its constant bias toward diplomacy, is the redoubt of verbal skills, much denigrated now that it turns out that women possess them in spades over men. And the State Department has only become an acceptable appointment for a woman as the department has declined in stature. It’s budget has been allowed to deteriorate away over the years, ambassadorships have become powerless rewards for campaign contributors and responsibility for real foreign policy making has all moved over to the Pentagon. Now that it’s the department of international social work, it’s safe to leave the place to a woman. The State Department has even got a double entendre in its unofficial name — Foggy Bottom — to suggest that it’s the proper place to send the skirts, especially the bulging middle-aged ones. They may as well run a knitting circle out of the Secretary’s office suite, whereas the Pentagon is a bastion of manly action.

If what is required is someone who can talk our enemies to death, why not go with one of the original rumors, and make Senator John Kerry the Secretary of State? If Senator Clinton is going to get a role other than leading the charge for healthcare reform in Congress, then let’s retire this gender-reifying myth and send her to the Pentagon.