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Posts Tagged ‘Diane Sawyer’

Apparently, having a wife helps. But we’ll get back to that.

Yesterday we addressed the lack of girls in the boys’ locker room, namely the late-night comedy writers club. Which led Alison to comment:

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.

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I suppose it should come as no surprise, what with the nasty brouhaha that erupted three years ago when Katie Couric was named anchor for CBS’ 60 Minutes, that the recent announcement about Diane Sawyer taking over Charlie Gibson’s anchor post on ABC World News upon Gibson’s retirement was met with a scathing round of… er, analysis.

While the Women’s Media Center dubbed it a “watershed moment,” the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Karen Heller took a less optimistic tone, all but calling nightly television news an endangered species, Sawyer’s appointment an overhyped boobie prize:

The nightly newscast is also the Metamucil half-hour, as the pharma ads reflect. The three newscasts collectively attract 20 million viewers, half the size of the audience 15 years ago, with a median age of 61.3, hence all the health coverage. Claiming Sawyer’s appointment “historic,” as many have, is misleading. It’s a job many men, including Gibson, no longer want.

So, while we all know the fate of the numbers Couric found upon assuming her position, from what Heller says, it seems like dwindling ratings should have been an all but foregone conclusion (and she may be right: I mean, how many people do you know who get their news at 5:30, on TV? Thought so). And Katie was a convenient scapegoat, made all the more convenient because she was a trailblazer, a first.

But that’s just the half of it.

I was surprised to find this dim assessment on from Courtney Martin, on the website Feministing:

Sawyer seems like a perfectly decent interviewer and a hardworking journalist, but I’m also struck that she fits into the “NewsMommy model” that Ann reported on back when Couric was chosen–essentially that the networks are choosing women who are non-threatening, aka maternal, for the top positions so as not to freak out viewers still not used to the idea that women can be assertive, independent, and–gasp–childless.

First, lest I forget, Diane Sawyer doesn’t even have children. As Amanda Fortini put it on Salon’s Broadsheet:

Sawyer is many things–smart, competent, often witty, exceedingly attractive–but “maternal” is not an adjective that springs to mind. You might even call her telepresence the opposite of maternal: glossy, self-contained, occasionally remote… So what, exactly, is it that qualified her as maternal? That she is a woman of a certain age? This is the sort of stereotyping feminists have long worked to combat.

In my opinion, Fortini hit the nail on the head, although I don’t think Martin’s post was quite as dismissive as Fortini took it to be. But really, aren’t we beyond all this? What’s with the use of the word “mommy” in that context–as if it’s a synonym for airhead or lightweight? I’ll concede that morning news shows like Good Morning America are to news as Pop-Tarts are to breakfast, but Diane Sawyer has a pretty impressive resume behind that pretty face (is it the pretty that’s the problem?): she has 30 years of network experience, was an aide to Nixon, she’s interviewed the last four presidents and their wives, as well as world leaders such as Ahmadinejad, Sadaam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Robert McNamara, and Manuel Noriega to name but a few. She’s covered the State Department, and was one of the first female correspondents on 60 Minutes. And, um, Charlie Gibson seems like a nice guy and everything, but a hard-hitter? Not so much.

While Sawyer’s new gig may indeed be a boobie prize, perceived as but a pit stop on the way to the Metamucil aisle, I’m struck by all the analysis. Because, had some guy been given the job, we’d all be on the same side: where are the women? Perhaps we’d be more focused on this sobering fact: according to the Women’s Media Center, “women hold only 3 percent of the ‘clout’ positions in media.” But now that she’s there, the best we can do is to consume rumors of catfights between she and Couric, pick apart the career choices she’s made, what she looks like, and each other.

What will it take for us to stop judging each other and get on the same team? To stop reaching for the shards of shattered glass from those ceilings our sisters have worked so hard to crack and using them as weapons against each other, rather than sweeping them up, admiring the fact that we might be able to make it through a little easier, and getting on with our own lives and the ceilings we’ll inevitably face? Equality? Yet another reason to keep working for it–and, frankly, as good as any.

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imagesYou have to wonder if Nancy Drew was the first feminist role model for generations of young women.

She was smart, brave, confident: the leader of her pack who scooted around town to scary places — at night, no less — in her very own roadster, convertible top down, with sidekicks Bess and George, and sometimes asexual boyfriend Ned, all letting her call the shots.

And in the end, our Nancy always figured it out.

Apparently prompted by Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s admission that she devoured Nancy Drew books as a child, Sunday’s New York Times featured a piece by Jan Hoffman who listed a Who’s Who of confident , accomplished and prominent women in their 40s, 50s and beyond who grew up with Nancy by their side: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Diane Sawyer, Laura Bush, Nancies Grace and Pelosi, and former ground-breaking Congresswoman Pat Shroeder, who was given a stack of Nancy Drew books after she failed Home Ec:

“I needed Nancy Drew,” said Ms. Schroeder. “She was smart and she didn’t have to hide it! She showed me there was another way to live,” added Ms. Schroeder, who would earn her pilot’s license at 15, and become a feminist politician from Colorado. For women like Ms. Schroeder and Judge Sotomayor, the acquisition of the books is central to their Nancy Drew narratives.

Clearly, as Hoffman suggests, Nancy Drew was an inspiration for many of us who came of age in pre-feminist times, supplying through fiction what we couldn’t find in real life. She made life — and choices — seem easy. And possible.

Of course the books were thoroughly unrealistic. Probably even silly. Certainly Nancy led the unexamined life. And, the ultimate deception, Nancy was created by a man. (Yes, Virginia, there is no Carolyn Keene.)

And yet. You have to wonder if the beauty of identifying with Nancy (as opposed to, say, Barbie) when you are young and impressionable is that, somehow, a lesson sticks: Maybe choices are easier when you’ve grown up believing in your own resilience, trusting that you can follow your gut wherever it leads, without second guessing, because in the end — somewhere around page 224 — things always work out.

For the record, I read every Nancy Drew book I could get my hands on when I was a kid, and still have a box of them out in our garage. Right next to my red roadster.

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