The women of President Barack Obama’s White House saw themselves as a team among themselves. There was a regular dinner of female Obama senior officials where they discussed issues specific to being women working at senior levels in the administration.
Alyssa Mastromonaco, deputy chief of staff, said the purpose of the dinners was “to support one another through the gender imbalance in the West Wing.” The senior staff women even had a gender-specific name for themselves: “the Vagiants.”
This gynocentric self-designation was off-putting to some of the pro-Obama but less senior aides not in the Vagiant club.
As Obama stenographer Beck Dorey-Stein wrote: “Why does ‘Vagiant’ make me feel bad. … I wouldn’t especially love it if the men in the West Wing nicknamed themselves the 10-Inch Senior Staffs.”
The Vagiants also appeared to have certain privileges not granted to other aides. As Dorey-Stein observed, with more than a touch of envy regarding their leave to wear brighter colors than lower-level White House aides could, “Only the Vagiants can wear any shade from the J. Crew catalog.”
The “Vagiants” joined together in an alliance to advance the ideas of women in the administration. The tactic they adopted was named “amplification.” It called for the women to echo the views of other women, and specifically, to agree with comments other female aides made in meetings.
The Obama women would also occasionally pursue gender-specific crusades, often to the confusion of the men with whom they worked.
When a New York Times article noted that Mastromonaco had long managed Obama’s “logistical and travel arrangements” and described her quite senior position of deputy chief of staff as “responsible for overseeing scheduling, personnel and much more,” she interpreted it as a gender-based slight. Mastromonaco was extremely unhappy with the article. By her admission, she “went apes—”
Mastromonaco’s reaction to the perceived slight did not fit into the “no drama Obama” ethic. When she received the offending article in a group email that went to the entire White House senior staff, she “replied-all with a very cutting, infuriated response.” White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler “amplified” via reply-all as well, echoing Mastromonaco’s concerns. Mastromonaco was still angry, but she thought that was the end of the matter: “I was fuming but I didn’t think it was a big deal.”
The next day, Obama summoned her to his office. She was not sure why — the White House deputy chief of staff is typically in regular contact with the president, on a wide-ranging set of issues. Obama greeted her with, “So, I hear you sent quite an email.” Mastromonaco was surprised by this and “started going over that distribution list in my head to figure out who had narc’d on me,” with a thought toward who “deserves another irrational email.” Obama sensed what she was thinking and cut off that train of thought, saying, “It doesn’t matter who came to talk to me.” He then scolded her a bit over the email, telling her that “I could not send emails like that because they—I am paraphrasing—freak everyone out.”
So we have big drama over what was perceived as a slight in a newspaper article. She is senior staff. She should not be acting this way. But she and her other club members have their own agenda, so I suppose it is all justified in their eyes.
Let us return to the original problem. We have women who advancing the female agenda, not the overall agenda. Compare Captain America and Terminator II. We have women presented as strong in both. Sarah Connor was working to the overall goal of saving all of humanity. Whats-her-name in Captain America was concerned with advancing the female agenda (though they pretended otherwise). Which character is the memorable one? From a guy’s perspective, the answer is easy. Maybe the women have different ideas.
Exit question — are women in executive positions always drama?