Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The Contemporary Presidency: Gender Desegregation and Gender Integration in the President's Cabinet, 1933-2010

Academic journal article Presidential Studies Quarterly

The Contemporary Presidency: Gender Desegregation and Gender Integration in the President's Cabinet, 1933-2010

Article excerpt

To study women and men in the U.S. cabinet is to study the intersection of descriptive and substantive representation. Consider, for example, the significance of gender to the political credibility of two well-known cabinet secretaries, Frances Perkins and Colin Powell. As the labor secretary in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, Frances Perkins advanced reforms that women activists had sought for decades. Countless policy battles in municipal and state government had strengthened the ties between her gender identity and her political priorities. Gender and politics were also tightly intertwined for Colin Powell, secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. As a career military officer with extensive experience in military-civilian dialogues, Powell brought a distinctive credibility to his diplomatic engagements. For Powell and for Perkins, gender provided access to career opportunities and organizational networks, shaping their advocacy and leadership. These examples begin to reveal the importance of gender for both women and men secretaries, demonstrating the need to consider its impact on careers and decisions. Are there systematic differences among the women and men appointed to the cabinet in the modern presidency? What is the significance of these differences for the modern presidency?

Answering these questions requires comparing the women and the men secretaries, drawing on past classification schemas developed and tested by political scientists. As individuals, cabinet members can be categorized as initial or midterm appointees, as Washington insiders or outsiders, and as specialists in their departments' policies, liaisons to their departments' constituents, or generalists chosen for their loyalty to the president (see Best 1981; Borrelli 2002; King and Riddlesperger 1984; Polsby 1978). To see the aggregate effect of the individual similarities and differences, we consider the extent to which a president's cabinet has undergone either gender desegregation or gender integration. In simple terms, when women enter a formerly all-male cabinet, but then are marginalized within it, the cabinet is gender desegregated. As women and men secretaries acquire similar political resources and opportunities to exercise power, the cabinet undergoes gender integration. It is the task of this article to define these terms precisely, applying them to the cabinets of the modern presidency.

Particular attention is given to the Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama cabinets. By the time of the Clinton presidency, there was a widespread expectation that women would be named to the cabinet--an expectation encouraged by Clinton's campaign promises of "an administration that looks like America," by the lobbying efforts of the Coalition for Women's Appointments, and by extensive media coverage. How did this affect the cabinet ? Did it evidence gender integration? George W. Bush made no promises similar to Clinton's, and he encountered far less pressure to diversify his cabinet appointments. Did the cabinet changes begun in the Clinton administration continue in the Bush administration? Barack Obama was the first civil rights attorney to be president. How did his initial cabinet secretaries compare to those of Clinton and Bush? Did Obama provide a gender-desegregated or a gender-integrated cabinet ? These questions are the focus of this study of gender and change in the president's cabinet.

Women, Men, and the President's Cabinet

Cabinet secretaries advance the president's agenda through their advocacy in Congress, through leadership in their departments, and through their relationships with departmental issue networks. Yet this outreach also strains the secretaries' allegiance to the president, as members of Congress advance their own priorities through authorizations and appropriations, departmental careerists mobilize to protect their programs, and constituencies seek policies in their self-interest. …

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