With Donald Trump quickly transitioning from presidential candidate to actual president, there's been a focus away from one of the most contentious aspects of his campaign for president — Trump's history of behavior and comments about women. Running against the first female nominee of a major party, the 2016 election often felt like a referendum on gender equality itself. Now that he's setting up a cabinet and preparing to move into the Oval Office, to a certain degree, I would argue that concerns about Trump's sexist rhetoric are getting shunted to the side as we focus more on what he's actually going to do as president. But based on an email questionnaire to employees of the State Department obtained by The New York Times, some fear Trump's presidency could turn his problems with women into problems for women worldwide.
According to the Times report, the document asked State Department employees for information regarding "existing programs and activities to promote gender equality, promoting women's participation in economic and political spheres, entrepreneurship, etc.," as well as "positions whose primary function are to promote such issues."
We cannot say for certain what the purpose of this email is. For all we know, it could be an innocuous survey, and that is well worth noting. When asked in Thursday's press conference, John Kirby, the State Department's press secretary, downplayed the questionnaire, and reiterated the department's commitment to work with the incoming administration. “It is normal, it is usual, it is typical, it is expected,” Kirby said. The Trump transition has not yet responded to request for comment from Bustle and other media outlets.
However, it is also worth noting that it has been interpreted by some inside and outside the State Department as a forerunner to a purge of such programs, likening it to a similar questionnaire sent to the Department of Energy to identify employees involved with Climate Change issues, which the transition walked back after public outcry. “People are freaked out,” an unidentified State Department employee told the Los Angeles Times about the questionnaire. And Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, the highest-ranking woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed concern.
Shaheen even sent out a separate statement to the press, explaining her potential concerns:
Trump transition should clarify their intent in requesting all info on programs that promote women’s equality. More: https://t.co/qmkm6n0p22— Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (@SenatorShaheen) December 22, 2016
If Shaheen's concerns prove valid, it would feel like one last middle finger directed at Trump's election opponent, Hillary Clinton. As Secretary of State, Clinton was noted for her commitment to promoting gender equality worldwide as an important goal of U.S. foreign policy. She introduced the position of ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues while at the State Department, a position that has continued under Secretary Kerry with the current ambassador, Catherine M. Russell. And one of the most memorable moments of her time as first lady was her speech in Beijing proclaiming women's rights as human rights.
On Thursday, Trump named his former campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, as a top adviser to his administration. The press release doing so noted Conway's status as the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign (Donna Brazile previously managed Al Gore's unsuccessful 2000 campaign) with odd wording, namely saying she "also shattered the glass ceiling for women." As most who have followed the election know, Clinton was the woman most closely associated with that term, suggesting a jab at the former political rival of Trump.
Interesting word choice in Trump's press release announcing Kellyanne Conway as counselor to President pic.twitter.com/1sZolW04fU— Mary Ellen McIntire (@MelMcIntire) December 22, 2016
There is real reason to celebrate Conway's accomplishment and what it means for gender equality. But the potential implications of the State Department letter sent by the Trump transition is a reminder that the real glass ceiling remains very much intact and that the people who stopped it from being shattered are coming into power.