We applaud President Clinton for his December 5 appointment of Madeline K. Albright as the first femal secretary of state. After her hard work as the United States ambassador to the United Nations and a member of the National Security Council, Albright was the clear choice to succeed Warren Christopher as our nation's highest foreign policy adviser.
Congratulations are in order, but there is also concern. Yes, the president's mother is smiling down in approval of the choice of a female secretary of state, glad that her son who had learned about foreign policy as an aide to Senator William J. Fulbright has his own foreign policy protege in Madeline Albright. But there is always the possibility that she will be judged differently, by the dreaded double standard. Will her foreign policy successes be written off as having been accomplished by a woman pretending to be "One of the guys?" Conversely, will her failures be blamed on a woman's supposed inability to make though decisions?
Unfortunately, the answer to both of these questions is probably yes. We have progressed to the point where the president can appoint a female secretary of state, but not to the point where her every move will not be scrutinized from a gender-focused perspective.
The good news is that Madeline Albright can handle the scrutiny. She has played many roles in her life, several of them concurrently: mother, professor, foreign policy adviser, U.N. ambassador. She has seen it all and handled it with aplomb. As a foreign-born secretary of state, she is likely to be compared to the only other person of such a background to have served in that position, Henry Kissinger. We are confident that in attitude, as well as in gender, she will be different.
As President Clinton said in announcing the appointment, Albright has "steely determination" as well as a clear understanding of her dual function as a leading cabinet member and female role model. We see that the second follows naturally from the first, as she herself indicated in her own metaphor: "I hope my heels can fill your shoes," she said to outgoing secretary Christopher when she accepted her new position.
Madeline Albright has broken through the very thick glass ceiling of American foreign policy. Let's give her a chance to see what she can do with all that oxygen.