MEDIA
11/17/2011 03:47 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Guess The Gender Of The High-Ranking Pentagon Official The Washington Post Profiled In The Style Section!

I'll spare you the suspense -- it's Michele Flournoy, the current Undersecretary of Defense for Policy of the United States who gets profiled in the Washington Post's Style section, in a piece that leads off by telling you that Flournoy is "the highest-ranking woman in Pentagon history," but then waits six paragraphs to tell readers what her official title is, in order to let readers know that she "went to Beverly Hills High School with 1970s teen idol Shaun Cassidy and did her homework on the set of television's 'The Odd Couple,'" which are some important details, I'm sure, to understanding how her approach to Pentagon policy is informed.

Would you expect this sort of thing to happen to a male DoD official of significant rank? Ha, of course not, which is why Spencer Ackerman, who penned a more substantive profile of Flournoy for Washingtonian (our own David Wood does the same, here), reacts in this way:

Why is a woman subcabinet official getting profiled in the Post's Style section, anyway? Is it really not possible to grapple with this woman's ideas because she's wearing pearls? Really? When you start from the premise that Flournoy's going to run the Pentagon someday, shouldn't that incline you to explore whether that's, like, a good idea? I don't give a fuck what her workout regimen is. Because that tells me nothing about how she'll run the fucking Pentagon. Have you written your piece about how many crunches Leon Panetta does in the morning? I'll just wait here until you do.

Ackerman is reacting to this paragraph in the piece:

She's tall and slender with a regal manner. She often wears pearls. Soft-spoken and understated, she is described by her co-workers as brainy rather than blustery. She talks slowly, frequently stopping to think. Her careful speaking style differs wildly from that of Douglas J. Feith, who held her job during the George W. Bush administration and came under fire for his role in building the administration's case for the invasion of Iraq.

Interestingly enough, this paragraph isn't found toward the top of the piece, where you might expect a writer to dispense with setting up the soft focus before moving in to the meat of their subject -- it's the twelfth paragraph. What precedes it is what seems to be an epic attempt to divine the deep mystery of how this woman came to be an important figure in defense policy circles.

"On the surface, her personal trajectory is somewhat incongruous," writes Emily Wax, who then goes on to describe the incredibly true story of how Michele Flournoy grew up in one place, got interested in a subject, studied that subject, and then joined a field to which her education could be best put to use, headquartered in an entirely different location from the one where she grew up. THIS IS SO INCONGRUOUS.

From there, you briefly learn that she co-founded the Center for a New American Security, but after four ensuing paragraphs that lightly touch on her worldview and policy perspective, we're back to learning about her "modest style" and her tendency to eschew cocktail parties and, yes, her workout regimen, which is stuffed into a section that's subtitled "Leading by example" (that includes mention of a "Starbucks addiction," because when I think of how best to characterize how someone "leads by example," my thoughts naturally turn to their daily latte intake).

At any rate, the answer to Ackerman's question, "Why is a woman subcabinet official getting profiled in the Post's Style section, anyway?" is that the Post's Style section is where important news is broken about whether or not important women in government cross their legs when they sit down (and then they get the story wrong).

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