I never thought I’d have to say this, but … does President Obama need to borrow one of Mitt Romney’s binders full of women? Recent appointments for Obama’s second-term cabinet shows a staggering lack of diversity. A now infamous photograph showing the President with his senior advisors – a room full of white men, lounging around in their best business casual – could just as well be a photo of poker night at the Hamptons, as at the Oval Office. Even sadder still, there is one woman present in the snapshot, Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Chair of White House Council on Women and Girls, but she is hidden behind a man, a sliver of her leg barely visible.
In Obama’s first term, women made up at least a third of his cabinet, distinctly better than predecessor Bush’s 19%. Nevertheless, this rate was actually deficient to Clinton’s, whose advisors were 41% women. With popular, high-profile figures like Hilary and Lisa Jackson stepping down, many were anxiously, yet perhaps optimistically, awaiting the President’s decisions. And why would we not be positive? 2012’s election was repeatedly extolled as a victory for women, as Romney’s plans to shut down Obamacare and oppose public funding for contraceptives were shut down decisively. Male rape apologists were kicked out of their seats and replaced with extraordinary representatives like Tammy Duckworth, the first disabled woman elected to the House, and the first member of Congress born in Thailand. The 113th Congress has 20 female senators, which is the most ever in U.S. history. In a deliciously exciting and funny quote, Senator Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota recently said, “For the first time, there was a traffic jam in the Senate women’s bathroom. There were five of us in there, and there are only two stalls.”
Riding this wave of progressive ascendancy, politicians, feminists, and voters alike expected a cabinet that reflected the nature of America: heterogenous. However, Obama has already appointed the three most esteemed positions in his cabinet – state, defense, and treasury – to John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and Jack Lew. He has garnered tough criticism for his choices, with New York Times’s Maureen Dowd lamenting, “It’s passing strange that Obama, carried to a second term by women, blacks, and Latinos, chooses to give away the plummiest White House jobs to white dudes.” Even right-wing politician Mike Huckabee claims that Obama is waging his own war on women by passing them over for his cabinet picks. For his part, the President tells the public to hold their horses (or elephants or donkeys). "Until you've seen what my overall team looks like, it's premature to assume that somehow we're going backwards. We're not going backwards, we're going forward," he states confidently.
Of course, many argue that the number of female representatives in the President’s inner circle is not what makes the biggest difference in women’s lives – policy is. With moves like Obamacare and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, it seems that he does intend to better the daily existence of women, which is crucial. However, as long as women continue to be obscured, as long as they are only chosen for background positions, this unfortunate trend of invisibility will continue. As feminist icon Gloria Steinem says, “You can’t be what you can’t see, so it’s harder for women to say, ‘I’m going to be a candidate.’” To go forward, Obama must work on more equitable policies, but he must also commit to a publicly diverse team, one that can inspire anyone in America to one day lead the country.
Photographs via Google Images