Feminists were devastated by Senator Barack Obama’s final Cabinet selections. Although Obama has not reversed any of his policy positions, he has committed a major crime in their eyes. He selected five women for his twenty Cabinet positions. This is not enough for them. That he chose one-fourth of his Cabinet positions to be filled by women instead of one-half is the problem.
Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW), is not happy. In a December 22nd CNN article she said, “When you are looking at a Cabinet and you have such a small number of women in the room when the big decisions are being made, there need to be a lot more women's voices in this administration.”
Amy Siskind, who recently co-founded the feminist group New Agenda, claims in the same article that Obama is taking “shocking steps backward” in not selecting more women and that “this constituency does not matter to the president-elect.”
The number of women Obama chose is similar to the number selected by his most recent predecessors, so claims that this is some revolutionary step in any direction are exaggerated. President George W. Bush started with four women in his Cabinet. Currently, five women serve in President Bush’s Cabinet, Elaine Chao is the Secretary of Labor, Mary E. Peters is the Secretary of Transportation, Condoleezza Rice is the Secretary of State, Susan Schwab is the United States Trade Representative and Margaret Spellings is the Secretary of Education. President Bill Clinton started with five women in his Cabinet. Also, like President Bush, Obama has filled one of the four most important posts (head of the department of State, Justice, Defense and Treasury) with a woman, Senator Hillary Clinton.
Since women compose over half of the electorate and the U.S. population, the claim that women should make up half of the Cabinet does not seem so far-fetched. Yet, it does seem ridiculous when compared with earlier positions feminists have taken in this election. Regardless of the arguments for and against women making up half of Obama’s Cabinet, this feminist complaint reveals a deep tension within feminism today by raising a question: Does American feminism seek to achieve sex parity or policy representation?