Last week, the Secret Service landed in hot water over reports that agents employed local prostitutes during President Obama’s trip to Colombia. Now two female members of Congress are saying there’s one thing that could have prevented the scandal: More women in the Secret Service. Currently, women make up just 11% of the force. Is the answer to male misbehavior on the job always “hire more women”?
The Secret Service scandal has already led to the firing of six agents, with more dismissals likely. The scandal began when a prostitute, angry that a Secret Service agent didn’t pay her, began yelling in the hallways of a hotel in the early morning after what the Washington Post calls a “drunken bender” involving more than one agent (and more than one prostitute). Miami-based Secret Service supervisor Paula Reid got word of the disturbance and acted quickly to investigate and clean up the mess in the 24 hours before Obama’s arrival in the country. Reid is one of the agency’s highest ranking black members, and she’s been rising in the ranks there for 21 years.
As James Fallows of the Atlantic said on public radio this weekend, the country relies on the Secret Service to have impeccable judgment — think of agents whisking away Lyndon Johnson right after President Kennedy was shot, or doing the same to Dick Cheney on the morning of September 11, 2001. Agents need more than just muscles and the willingness to take a bullet for the president; they need to exercise impeccable judgment at all times. Getting into a dispute over cash with a Colombian prostitute while on a business trip is pretty much the opposite of “impeccable judgment.”
So New York representative Carolyn Maloney and Maine senator Susan Collins explained on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday that this might never have happened if there were more women on the force. Describing Reid, Collins said: “She acted decisively, appropriately, and I can’t help but wonder if there’d been more women as part of that detail if this ever would have happened.”
Maloney agreed: “I can’t help but keep asking this question: Where are the women? We probably need to diversify the Secret Service and have more minorities and more women.”
The Secret Service is apparently an intensely macho place. That’s unsurprising, considering it’s an 89% male environment, everyone is armed, and its purpose is protecting the lives of the most important people in the country. That masculine vibe will never — heck, probably should never – disappear completely. But its macho-ness goes beyond the parameters of the job. The Washington Post reports that some agents “joked” that their motto was “wheels up, rings off.” Ha. Ha. Ha.
Collins and Maloney’s call to include more women in the Secret Service is reminds me of the response to former congressman Anthony Weiner’s texting scandal last summer. After Weiner was caught sending female fans photos of his, uh, last name, many commentators said that female politicians are less likely to fall prey to sex scandals. And they’re right.
All of this is really just the latest version of much older logic: That boys will be boys, and women are a civilizing influence whose job is to make them behave. The fact that this kind of thinking is annoying and regressive doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes correct. Having more women in the Secret Service would surely modify and moderate the testosterone-rich atmosphere there. But I wish the answer to the problem of bad-bahaving male professionals wasn’t just to station more female babysitters in the workplace.