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Foreign Policy

Why the Pentagon Stays a Battleground for Ladies

As an active officer in the Marine Corps, Lindsay Rodman was used to being the only woman in the room – and unlike her male counterparts, her very presence has been questioned.

There was the lieutenant colonel who seemed really confused that a woman would be interested in joining and another colonel who said with certainty that her wives were not one of them. Another colonel in Afghanistan didn’t have to say anything; he refused to shake her hand.

“There’s no such thing as a good answer,” said Rodman, now executive director of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS), a nonprofit advocating greater gender diversity in national security. “My answer has usually been, ‘Well, sir, I’m thankful to be in the Marine Corps. I think women are Marine Corps. ‘”

If this were confirmed, Joe Biden’s election as Secretary of Defense, retired Army General Lloyd J. Austin III, would be the first black to head the Department of Defense. But his historic selection raised hopes for another first: after 73 years of uninterrupted leadership by men, a woman could run the Pentagon.

For a while, that possibility finally seemed to be within reach. Michèle Flournoy, who served as undersecretary for politics in the Obama administration and also in the Clinton administration, was widely viewed as a top contender for the position. Many viewed her as a slam dunk because of her decades of experience, her knowledge of how the Pentagon worked, and her deep connections within the defense community. House Armed Services Committee Democratic Chair Adam Smith endorsed Flournoy and told reporters last month that she was “without a doubt the most qualified person for the job.”

Austin’s nomination is also controversial. Many Democrats have called for a return to civilian leadership in the Department of Defense after President Donald Trump elected retired Marine Corps General James Mattis as his first Secretary of Defense. Mattis, who retired in 2013, called for a waiver of Congress due to a law that provides for a seven-year separation between military service and civilian leadership. As the current general on active duty, Austin will also require a waiver.

Women have long faced obstacles to entering some of the most important defense and national security professions in the country. Not only has the military openly discriminated against women throughout history – fighting jobs didn’t open to women until 2015 – the Pentagon continues to be an environment where “most people were either military or ex-military,” said Rosa Brooks, professor in Law from Georgetown and Co. – Founder of LCWINS who previously worked for Flournoy in the Department of Defense. Women “overwhelmingly likely weren’t,” Brooks said of her time at the Pentagon, which resulted in her being excluded from networks that were often built through a common military alliance.

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The numbers show how tight the doors were closed to women in the Pentagon. According to a New America report, women were only six of a total of 23 positions of assistant secretary or higher in the Department of Defense at the end of 2018. In fact, Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Veterans Affairs are the only cabinet agencies that have never been run by a woman (neither is the Treasury Secretary, but Joe Biden nominated Janet Yellen for the role).

While it is difficult to predict how Flournoy – or any woman – would head the department, her appointment would have signaled to other women interested in national security jobs that the United States was ready to draw on all of its talents . Linda Reynolds, who has headed the Australian Department of Defense since May 2019, has advocated better gender equality within the country’s armed forces and opposed a toxic locker room culture described by government officials as “what happens outside the cable” remains outside the country Wire. “Last month after a war crimes investigation uncovered the gruesome murders of Afghan civilians by Australian soldiers, it denied claims by a former special forces captain that the murders were the” fog of war “and instead called them” cold blooded murder. ” “.

A study of women defense ministers around the world found that women are less likely to be appointed in countries that are involved in conflict or invest heavily in military operations at the expense of peacekeeping. It was also found that the greater the representation of women in government overall, the greater the likelihood that they would be appointed to the highest national security posts. In the United States, women’s participation in government lags that of many developed countries. Dozens of countries, including the UK, India, Chile, France, Spain and Germany, had women at the head of their defense ministries. America, Rodman said, is “behind the curve”.

This lack of representation can affect decision-making in ways that can compromise national security. In September, the US Air Force released a digital acquisition report entitled “Take the Red Pill,” which will serve as a reference for the movie The Matrix. The term “red pilling” was also used as a dog whistle by men’s rights groups that were associated with violence. Kathleen McInnis, a writer and defense expert who has served at the Pentagon, along with other women and at least one man, pointed out the dual importance of the defense community, including online, and urged the Air Force to publish the report, “There Is No. Spoon “(another matrix reference). “When you … have a bigger pool of different perspectives to fall back on, things like this are coming to the fore sooner than they are not currently,” said McInnis.

Rodman noted the hypocrisy in America’s demand for greater female participation abroad, while continuing to fall short domestically. In 2000, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 recognized the need for greater representation of women in the peace process, and the United States adopted its own version in 2017. Your organization received pledges in the 2020 election from every Democratic presidential candidate and Republican Bill Weld Seeking Greater Gender Equality in the appointment of senior national security and foreign policy leaders. But Trump didn’t sign up. “For other countries, it’s pretty easy to point at us and say, ‘Are you kidding us?'” Rodman said, adding that there are no excuses for officials to say they would be a wife for you consider a high-level civil appointment, but can. ‘I can’t find any who are qualified.

According to Marta Hernandez, spokeswoman for the Senate Armed Forces Committee, there are currently 57 Senate-confirmed civilian positions in the Department of Defense. LCWINS developed a database of candidates for these and other agency positions, including senior civilian positions in the State Department, with a total of around 200 jobs. The organization wanted to offer two candidates for each position, or 400 names. In the end, around 900 were put together.

Rodman said there is plenty of room for more women in the national security room. Biden recently appointed Dr. Kathleen Hicks, who served in the Pentagon as part of the Obama administration, on his election as Assistant Secretary of Defense. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to hold number two (Christine Fox was an actress during the Obama administration). Further announcements from national security personnel are expected shortly.

Beyond the representation, McInnis emphasized the need for the culture of the field to change. A woman as defense minister is not a “silver bullet,” she warned. When she was working as director of operations for NATO-ISAF at the Pentagon, a man told her that she was “too passionate” for her job and that it undermined her credibility. “That kept me silent for years,” she said.

Rodman said she also censored herself when she felt that her audience was not receptive to her ideas, which prevented her from opposing sexist comments or offering alternative perspectives.

Now she’s more concerned about what would have happened if she hadn’t been there. “I always realize that when I’m not in the room there is no woman in the room, right?” She said. “That seems even more important to me than being the only female voice.”

Rodman imagines what she could have said to the men who questioned her presence in the Marine Corps if a woman had run the Pentagon. “The power to look at someone in these circumstances and say, ‘Hey sir, the Secretary of Defense is a woman.’ Just the strength to turn around and say something like that. “

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