The XX Factor

Should the Next White House Social Secretary Be a Man?

That’s the question posed by two recent pieces, one in the New York Times and the other in Politico, which both run down some male possibilities for  for the traditionally female social-secretary job that’s opened up at the White House, thanks to Julianna Smoot’s departure. (She is leaving to work on the Obama re-election campaign.) It’s a fun parlor game, and also a very End of Men conceit-in this brave new female-dominated world, men will be the nurses and secretaries and the party-planners!-but the reality is that the White House is one of those places where there isn’t now and never has been gender parity (even with a couple of recent female appointments from Obama and women in high-profile administration roles like, say, secretary of state). And even though “sources tell POLITICO that the position might be reconfigured and made more junior level,” as the social job stands now, it’s a crucial (and difficult) one-secretary isn’t precisely the best description of the gig, which holds the promise of a whole lot of “soft” power. Yes, the role might play to stereotypes about what women are good at versus what men are (organization! manners! entertaining!) … and yet, so does White House chief of staff, which requires the sort of managerial and relationship-navigation skills that are often associated with women executives. There’s never been a woman in that job, by far the most important sub-presidential one in the administration). So at the risk of engaging in tiresome bean-counting, I’d submit that we shouldn’t be so eager to hire a man for social secretary just yet. Besides, the only two men who legendary Kennedy social secretary Letitia Baldridge (among those calling for a man in the job) thought might be good at the gig are probably unavailable: St. Peter or St. Paul.