Napolitano, Discrimination And The Real Problem With The ‘Inaugural Woman’
6:45 pm, August 10th | by Amy Tennery
As I left my apartment this morning, my boyfriend casually mentioned that one of the NFL’s temporary refs had made a disastrously bad call during one of the previous evening’s pre-season games. Amid ongoing contract disputes between the league and the officiates, the NFL installed temporary refs to handle the games — one of whom is a woman, Shannon Eastin, the first female ref to serve in an NFL game.
And, as with so many temporary replacements acting at the highest levels of their profession for the first time, there were blunders — this particular one was a doozy, embarrassing enough to make the morning sports news roundup. Upon hearing the news, almost without thinking, I called from the other room: “Oh, God, it wasn’t the woman, was it?”
Should it have mattered if it were the female ref to make the bad call? Of course not. Is it understandable that a last-minute replacement, serving on a televised football game in a league for which he or she has never officiated might commit a massive screw-up? Absolutely! But even with all those qualifiers, the thought it could have been Eastin, our Rosie The Ref, to screw up was heartbreaking to me. We couldn’t afford to have the first female NFL ref botch things. Because, unlike the poor sap who did actually make the aforementioned horrendous call (calling a touchback on a punt that reached the five yard line), her identity wasn’t “temporary ref” — it was “lady ref.”
And (flimsy as this analogy may be, bear with me) I can’t help but feel that same twinge (say it ain’t so) when I read the news this evening about a lawsuit leveled against Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano. I wanted to pretend the headlines didn’t exist.
Before I go any further, let me be clear: What I’m about to say is in no way a defense of Napolitano’s alleged actions. If she did what she’s accused of doing, I wholly and completely condemn her behavior. Whether it had involved a male or female, the lawsuit is pretty horrendous.
A long-time male staffer with the Department of Homeland Security claims he was the target of repeated harassment at the hands of his female bosses, installed by Napolitano, in a “salacious discrimination lawsuit” (thanks, Fox News) filed in May. The New York Daily News does a nice job summing up the suit:
A blistering federal discrimination suit accuses agency honcho Janet Napolitano of turning the department into a female-run “frat house” where male staffers were banished to the bathrooms and routinely humiliated.
James Hayes Jr., who now is New York’s top Homeland Security cop, claims Napolitano filled top spots in Washington, D.C., with two of her gal pals who were bent on tormenting male employees.
I’m not going to weigh in on the validity of the claims, although Forbes Woman’s claim that “one can’t help but detect a whiff of jealousy in the details surrounding the suit,” doesn’t seem entirely off base. Forbes Woman also noted that Napolitano’s office has called the suit’s claims unfounded.
But Napolitano’s status as a woman within the larger U.S. cabinet system makes these allegations even worse. She’s the only female Secretary of Homeland Security in the position’s (admittedly, quite short) history — the position’s Inaugural Woman. She’s one of just 25 women to serve in the U.S. cabinet — ever. And she might have condoned some really crappy stuff when we needed her to be perfect — because we don’t have enough other examples to drown this out. And that is so unfair it makes me crazy.
Male politicians attract, create (take your pick) scandals all the time. And we can spend all day debating why that is. But rarely is their “maleness” called to blame — even in cases that also involve sexual harassment. But already, Napolitano’s gender is front-and-center to this nascent scandal. Drudge referred to her as the mafioso-esque “Big Sis” in a headline that noted she “Favored Gal Pals.” New York magazine called it “reverse sexism” (nope, guys, it’s just sexism). Fox News went with the announcement that Napolitano ran a “female frat house” — as though they were literally incapable of typing “sorority.”
I’ve never claimed that all female politicians (or CEOs) are saints and, if true, this suit clearly abolishes the stereotype of the female shrinking violet. But on some level, Napolitano had to be — for herself and for women — in order to reach the level she did. And that makes everything about this scandal that much worse.