Are we setting our sights too low by wishing there were more women in late night? Let’s follow the lead of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Jenna Elfman, Courtney Cox, etc., and go after PRIME TIME slots for hilarious women! The un-funny old men can keep making their lame jokes after we’ve gone to sleep for the night!
And so today, we’re aiming at another boys’ club, this one close to the top of the food chain: the rarefied air of foreign diplomacy, and what the Washington Post dubbed “the Hillary effect,” which it cites not only as the cause for the increase in women in our own foreign service, but for the increase in female ambassadors to the United States as well. And the numbers certainly put those of the late-night writers’ rooms to shame:
More than half of new recruits for the U.S. Foreign Service and 30 percent of the chiefs of mission are now women, according to the State Department. That is a seismic shift from the days, as late as the 1970s, when women in the Foreign Service had to quit when they married, a rule that did not apply to men.
As for the foreign diplomats, the Post reports:
There are 25 female ambassadors posted in Washington — the highest number ever, according to the State Department.
“This is breaking precedent,” said Selma “Lucky” Roosevelt, a former U.S. chief of protocol.
Women remain a distinct minority — there are 182 accredited ambassadors in Washington — but their rise from a cadre of five in the late 1990s to five times that is opening up what had been an elite’s men club for more than a century.
It makes sense when you think about it, especially since women traditionally have been thought of as peacekeepers. The Post further points out that Hillary has been responsible for championing women’s rights across the globe, which is a good thing. Diversity at the top has also been cited for more open-minded decision making processes and, in some cases, a stronger focus on poverty, health care, and the marginalization of girls in many nations, especially when it comes to education:
[Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine] Albright said she guards against saying that women focus on “soft issues.” “They are often the hardest issues: poverty, discrimination, education and health,” she said.
On the other hand, what’s good for the world may not always be so easy for the women who are changing it. (The fact that the WaPo’s powers-that-be chose to play this story in Arts and Living, rather than the front section, is pretty telling in and of itself.) Various ambassadors are quoted in the piece, some saying that being a woman gives them a certain special status–that of a curiosity (so much for the blending-in act those joke-slingers are attempting). Or, as Singapore’s ambassador Heng Chee Chan, who arrived in Washington in 1996, told the Post, being presumed to be a man:
When a table was booked under “Ambassador Chan” and she arrived asking for it, she was told, ‘Oh, he is not here yet.’ “
Many said they are still often bypassed in receiving lines and the male standing beside them is greeted as “Mr. Ambassador.”
“Even when I say I am ambassador, people assume I am the spouse,” said [India's first female ambassador Meera] Shankar, who has represented India in Washington for nearly a year.
And — here comes the wife part — there’s a certain lack of support, as well:
While male ambassadors are usually accompanied by wives, female ambassadors are often here alone. Of eight interviewed, four are divorced and four said their husbands did not accompany them to Washington because of their own jobs. …Ambassadors’ wives have historically played a huge role in entertaining – a key part of an envoy’s job – so that duty falls to the female ambassadors. ‘We need a wife, too!’ several remarked.
There’s even a tinge of Groucho Marx, who famously said he’d never join a club that would accept him as a member, in this statement from Susan Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association:
Johnson said the rise in female diplomats coincides with what she sees as a shift in investment away from diplomacy and toward defense. ‘Is the relative feminization of diplomacy indicative of its decline as a center of power and influence?’
Clearly, we hope not, though her quote smacks a little of the “newsmommy” drubbing aimed at Diane Sawyer when she was selected to take over World News Tonight. Still, Johnson says she is encouraged to see the shift.
And so am I. As is true with all boys’ clubs, whether it be late night TV or the highest echelons of power, it takes guts, if not a wife, to pave the way for the rest of us. No wonder they call it the Hillary effect.