All the Single Ladies (In the Government)

What Women Really Think
June 22 2009 11:32 AM

All the Single Ladies (In the Government)

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The reliably wired Marc Ambinder flags National Journal 's almost foolishly comprehensive, 366-person omnibus study of the folks working in every nook and cranny of the Obama administration (complete with phone numbers)! I've only carved my way through a third of it, but Marc dishes the important stats:

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12 percent of top Obama officials have served in the military, down from 18 percent of top officials at the start of Bush's first term ... A top female Obama administration official is three times as likely to be single as her male counterpart. Four years ago, a top female Bush administration official was almost five times as likely to be single as her male counterpart ... The percentage of white Christians among top officials whose religious affiliation is known dropped from 71 percent during Bush's second term to 46 percent in the Obama administration. .. 37 percent of top Obama officials graduated from an Ivy League institution ... with Harvard being the top college for undergraduate and graduate degrees.

This is all fascinating demographic information (Noam Scheiber has made the case that Harvard "won" over Yale in the Obama-Clinton primary), especially the news that white Christians are now only half running the federal government. But the statistic that jumped out for me is that "top" females in both the Obama and Bush administrations were likely to be single, and that they were more likely to be single under W-unwavering defender of the traditional family. Of course, I suspect Bush had fewer women in his administration (Obama employs 123, to 243 men), and those who served were of the Condi Rice / Harriet Miers mold (presumably more attached to W than to their personal lives), but perhaps Obama-despite conventional Christianist demagoguery about Democrats-is slightly more pro-family.

At any rate, the same disproportionate numbers, in radically different administrations, seem to reinforce the sacrifices women make-not just to balance work and play, but to run the free world. On the Hill, for instance, as per Lisa Lerer, "dating as a congresswoman is almost impossible. It's not just the power thing, they say, but the difficulty of fitting someone new into an already tight schedule of weekends back home in the district, weeknight events and tiring days.'" The news that Jackie Norris, former schoolteacher and Michelle Obama confidante was bumped (or bumped herself) from her position as East Wing chief of staff in order to spend time with her young children is more evidence of the unique tradeoffs of being a politica. And when " The Melody Barnes," longtime D.C. heavy-hitter turned domestic policy chief, got married recently, the New York Times narrated her story thusly:

She and her friends often joked about the cast of characters who came courting, including the date who announced that his primary passion was whittling. But one of those conversations left Ms. Barnes in tears, recalled Laurie Rubiner, her good friend. "We laughed about it, but it was heartbreaking," Ms. Rubiner said. "Here is a 45-year-old woman who is so successful, yet the one thing that really defined success for her, family and love, was something she didn’t have."

Oy. This definition of "success" brings me back to a dueling set of articles at The Root last week on what single women can and can't learn from Michelle Obama . In echoes of that inflammatory Lori Gottlieb article on "settling," the theses are as follows: Women should stop being picky so that they can get married and be happy. Everything up to but not including girlfriend-beating should be excused ("he had ashy toes" is not a dealbreaker). Power is not as important as progeny.

But what if Barnes had shacked up with the whittler, and sat out the Obama campaign? Or all the female congresspeople had foregone important constituent visits to stroll, two by two , by the Potomac? I know this balancing act is timeless for "type A professional women" - but is the calculus different when the jobs in question are so, well, important? It seems odd that the women personally determining many key elements of American public life could shrug off that privilege-but then again, it doesn't.

 

Photograph of White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images.