Women in the new administration protect the US: President-Elect Barack Obama formally announced his national security team on Monday, and women are poised to hold up half the nation. Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton, United Nations Ambassador designee Dr. Susan Rice, and Homeland Security Secretary designee Janet Napolitano were three of the six appointments. Theirs will be the responsibility for facing down dictators and human rights violators, preventing terrorism, and repairing the United States’ global reputation.

New York Senator Hillary Clinton, whose appointment was leaked before many people bought the cranberry sauce last week, will be nominated to succeed Condoleeza Rice as Secretary of State. At yesterday’s event, Clinton promised “vigorous diplomacy” and said “While we are determined to defend our freedoms and liberties at all costs, we also reach out to the world again, seeking common cause and higher ground.”

Last year, Senator Clinton spoke about health care, one of her signature issues, in a WVFC interview, and we can expect her to pursue health care as a global human right as she did back in 1995 in Beijing at the Fourth World Congress on Women.


Dr. Susan Rice (no relation to Condoleeza Rice, thogh both graduated from Stanford), who served as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1997-2001, has been picked to become Ambassador to the United Nations. The position is being restored to the Cabinet after being downgraded by outging President Bush.

Rice has been a Rhodes Scholar and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and served as a foreign policy advisor to Mr. Obama during the presidential campaign. Madeline Albright, Secretary of State during the Clinton administration and another Obama advisor, is a close friend and mentor.

While at Brookings, Dr. Rice wrote position papers declaring that the US should impose tough sanctions on Sudan’s government and send American troops to end the genocide in Darfur, and strategizing how the US can help weak and impoverished nations without relying solely on economic aid. “The United States cannot by itself build weak states’ capacities,” she wrote in March,  “We must join with our allies, international institutions and developing countries to craft and implement effective strategies to address one of this century’s most pressing security challenges.”

Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is designated to take over the Department of Homeland Security. DHS is the youngest cabinet department, created only seven years ago in the wake of 9/11, and pulls together agencies as diverse as customs, immigration, FEMA, the Coast Guard, biological weapons laboratories, and the Computer Incident Response Center–all of which were part of other departments before DHS was created. The agency suffered some nasty and well-publicized birth pains.

Napolitano was a federal prosecutor experienced with terrorism cases before becoming governor, and has gained a lot of experience on immigration since then.  A new Time magazine profile names some of her greatest assets:

As a governor, she can be expected to have much more sympathy for states, which have felt disrespected and excluded under a top-down approach to homeland security issues since 9/11. “The trust between federal, state and locals is just not there,” says Ray Scheppach, executive director of the National Governors Association. Governors, including Napolitano, have protested the costs of REAL ID, a 2005 law passed by Congress to upgrade the security of driver’s licenses, as well as the failure of the Federal government to take a lead in repairing the country’s immigration policies. (Napolitano declared a state of emergency in Arizona in 2005 to direct more funds to the state’s border.)

And then there is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the agency that has been under fire ever since Hurricane Katrina. “Fifteen years ago, if I had surveyed every state employee and said, ‘What is the one federal organization that you think does a great job,’ it would have been overwhelmingly FEMA,” says Scheppach. “Now, if I ask what is the one organization that is a failure, they would probably point to FEMA.” Scheppach, who knows Napolitano from her time as chair of his organization, expects that she will work to rebuild the trust between the Feds and the locals, which will go a long way to fixing FEMA. “She’s smart, she reaches out well, but she knows how to move things. She’s pretty highly respected among governors on both sides of the aisle.”

Separated before birth: Gov. Napolitano turned 51 on Saturday, which means she’s two months younger than Johnette Napoltano, frontwoman for the alt-rock band Concrete Blonde. The two are unrelated, but some Gen-Jonesers still get them confused.

Concrete Blonde is best known for their early-90s hits “Joey,” “Everybody Knows” and “Ghost of a Texas Ladies’ Man” as well as the song “Tomorrow, Wendy” about a woman dying of AIDS. Johnette used to own an art gallery in LA and is now a solo singer and painter living in Joshua Tree, California. To mark World AIDS Day, here she is performing “Tomorrow, Wendy” in Tucson last year. (There’s a political but funny monologue before — skip halfway if you just want to hear the song.)

The camera adds ten questions: Time Magazine put Annie Leibovitz in touch with its readers for its weekly “10 questions” series. Nothing about Susan Sontag, but plenty of inquiries about regrets (not being able to photograph Martha Graham or Elvis Presley before they died) and the joys and limitations of photography. Asked by a French reader how she manages in  “the male-dominated world of photography,” Leibovitz sounds surprised: “That was one of the 10 most asked questions 20 years ago,” she said, adding that as more and more women enter the field it’s less relevant.

Of course, someone asked about the “Miley Cyrus debacle,” referring to the 16-year-old Disney Channel star’s appearance in Vanity Fair dressed only in a blanket: Leibovitz defended the image as a “beautiful, strong, simple picture…. It’s just that her audience wasn’t ready.”

For her own part, Ms. Cyrus appears to have grown out of the controversy. “Everyone outside of America liked it a little bit more because that’s more like the style, but the States are really conservative. Guess I just had to deal with that and just realise that I got to work with an amazing photographer,” she told Scotland’s Daily Record. “That’s what I want to do with my life. I would love to be a photographer.,” Cyrus said, adding that she was considering art school in London. “She was amazing and so talented and her lighting– I would love to work with her again.”

Mr. MoJo rising: Last week, Mother Jones grilled Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly creator Joss Whedon about his “heroine addiction” and (supposedly uncommon for a man) flip of Freudian psychology.

JW: Everybody makes fun of Uncle Joss when he brings up womb envy! But I still believe in it. It’s a very simple theory and I gave it a silly name, but basically it just seemed to be a fundamental thing that women have something men don’t, the obvious being an ability to bear children, and the resilience to hang in as parents. I don’t understand why or how anyone ever pulled off the whole idea of “women are inferior.” Men not only don’t get what’s important about what women are capable of, but in fact they fear it, and envy it, and want to throw stones at it, because it’s the thing they can’t have.

MJ: When you wrote Buffy, were you actively thinking, “I’m going to make an empowered feminist icon,” or were you just intuitively telling the story you wanted to tell? Or are they the same?

JW: It’s both, and they’re not the same. Because “intuitively” means, “This is what turns me on, this is what I need to see, this is my obsession.” I’ve seen a lot of movies [written] by guys who set out to [create a feminist icon] and didn’t feel it. Look at A League of Their Own. All of the good lines are Tom Hanks’. Those guys are really fabulous writers, but it’s not enough to say, “This should be done.” You have to need to do it.

WVFC notes with some sadness the extreme youth of most of his power women, including his upcoming Dollhouse, which features Eliza Dushku as a woman who has her memory and personality wiped between temporary assignments. We still hope that Whedon, a second-generation feminist and longtime supporter of Equality Now (below, see him introduced at an EN event by the relentless Meryl Streep) considers creating a woman in what we think of as her most powerful life stage.  (Maybe she can have the superpower boasted by so many of us:  the power of invisibility.)

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  • Raphael Sutton December 4, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Loved the article! Looking forward to more like it.
    Feminism has always been a huge part of Joss Whedon’s life, but then you know that already if you saw the video embedded in the article. Last year he auctioned off 5 seats for dinner with himself to raise money for Equality Now, which netted over $52,000 (the seats went from $9,400 to $11,100, with one bidder getting two of them).
    I do have one small bone to pick with the article though: its lamentation that Joss’ power women are all so young. While that’s often the case, let’s not forget Joyce (you know, Buffy’s mom), who didn’t have any super-powers but was still a very strong woman in her own right. I’d imagine that the blame for there not being more older women in his work lies more with the studio system that worships youth above all. I mean, if you think about it, he doesn’t really have that many older strong male figures either. Giles (from Buffy) and Shepherd (from Firefly/Serenity) are the only two that readily come to my mind (some might say that Firefly’s Mal could qualify as older, but then so should Zoe, as they’re about the same age).
    Raphy

    Reply
  • Jake S. December 4, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Given the man’s body of work, relating Joss to Feminism does not really seem like much of a stretch. I read one interview where he admitted that every story he sits down to write somehow ends up becoming about a teenage girl.
    Which, y’know, still produces some pretty good results.

    Reply
  • Women's Voices For Change December 2, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    A couple email reactions have come in questioning the subhead “The crackpots and these women.” It’s a reference to the title of a West Wing episode, and the fact that /these/ three women will be taking on some of the world’s nastiest crackpots.
    It was by no means intended as a slight against Sen. Clinton, Gov. Napolitano, or Dr. Rice. Quite the opposite.
    — copy editor Rachel Rawlings

    Reply
  • Women's Voices For Change December 2, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    A couple email reactions have come in questioning the subhead “The crackpots and these women.” It’s a reference to the title of a West Wing episode, and the fact that /these/ three women will be taking on some of the world’s nastiest crackpots.
    It was by no means intended as a slight against Sen. Clinton, Gov. Napolitano, or Dr. Rice. Quite the opposite.
    — copy editor Rachel Rawlings

    Reply
  • Women's Voices For Change December 2, 2008 at 11:08 pm

    A couple email reactions have come in questioning the subhead “The crackpots and these women.” It’s a reference to the title of a West Wing episode, and the fact that /these/ three women will be taking on some of the world’s nastiest crackpots.
    It was by no means intended as a slight against Sen. Clinton, Gov. Napolitano, or Dr. Rice. Quite the opposite.
    — copy editor Rachel Rawlings

    Reply