The President's Cabinet: Gender, Power, and Representation

The President's Cabinet: Gender, Power, and Representation

The President's Cabinet: Gender, Power, and Representation

The President's Cabinet: Gender, Power, and Representation

Synopsis

Are female office holders most acceptable when they most resemble men? Why has a woman never led the Department of the Treasury, or Defense, or Veterans Affairs? Reflecting on these and similar questions, MaryAnne Borrelli explores women's selection for - and exclusion from - U.S. cabinet positions. Borrelli considers how the rhetoric employed in the selection and confirmation of secretaries-designate establishes gendered expectations for the performance of nominees once they are in office. Analyzing the career paths of secretaries appointed from the 1930s through the first year of the George W. Bush administration, she demonstrates how gender shapes political judgments - by presidents, senators, and the nominees themselves - to reflect consistently masculine ideas about who should rule and how power should be exercised in the United States.

Excerpt

Personnel are policy. That familiar adage is especially relevant for the cabinet secretaries, who reveal political priorities even before their first decision. To understand the deeper implications of this truth for the departments, the presidency, and society, cabinet nominations and confirmations must be carefully studied.

In this investigation of cabinet secretaries-designate, I argue that cabinet members make perhaps their most notable contribution to the presidency by serving as representatives. It is therefore essential that we understand the factors and events that shape this service. As a starting point, the constitutive functions of representation can be identified as relationship building and communication. A relationship is essential if the representative is, literally, to re-present a people, an interest, or an ideal. To make present those who are absent, understanding and respect must exist between the representative and the represented. Otherwise, the representative will lack the knowledge and credibility to speak on behalf of the represented. And trust is made possible by communication. Representatives “speak for” people because they have previously “spoken to” those persons.

In selecting the secretaries-designate to serve as representatives, presidents take electoral, policy, and bureaucratic factors into account. A president's past campaign debts and future reelection hopes relate to the individual secretaries-designate, in their own right and as liaisons to particular issue networks. Whether the prospective cabinet members have previously served in the department and their familiarity with the . . .

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