Be Nice to Heather Hurlburt, Ms. Graff's Substitute Teacher

Morning, all. I’m Heather Hurlburt, recovering political speechwriter, national-security wonk, mom, feminist, Gen X-er, executive director of a small-yet-mighty nonprofit, would-be ballet dancer. I’m also the child of two journalists, so writing on deadline is in my blood.

Following E.J. Graff, whose writing has done as much as anyone to create and shape the discourses on the politics of women’s sexuality and on marriage equality, is more than a little intimidating. In fact, while I’ve written on geostrategy and politics for almost two decades now, this’ll be my coming-out party for writing on women’s issues for a clicking audience.

I’m one of those women who was raised by feminist parents in the 1970s to believe not only that I could do anything, but that I was obliged to try—that I had something to prove for hundreds of years of the women in my family who were serving girls and preachers’ wives and schoolteachers, who found avenues for adventure by working as governesses, emigrating alone, having children alone—and tracking down the fathers.

Like many women, I took my fight into a field where I almost never have to/get to talk about women. Soviet studies, arms control, European security, conflict prevention … see a pattern? I work on “hard” security, thank you very much. You want female colleagues, family-friendly offices, passionate work on family planning, child welfare, women’s empowerment? Go work on international development, humanitarian issues, or human rights.

Then came the day that Madeleine Albright was named Secretary of State. By sheer luck, and a damn lot of work, I was the only woman on her speechwriting staff. I walked into her office the first time, thinking I was so sophisticated that her gender didn’t matter to me. I grew up in Vermont in the 1970s, after all! And there she was, a grown-up girl, short, in heels, like me, like my mom. At some primal level, it did matter, a lot.

I went on to be the only woman on the White House speechwriting staff at the end of the Clinton Administration; then to have the guts to ignore all my career-girl feminist instincts, follow my husband to Michigan, and have a baby. Had only my second female boss, as a part-time speechwriter for then-Senator Clinton; moved back to Washington. Now I am that female boss. And it matters a lot. And our culture and politics have gone crazy.

What I’ve got in mind for the week: some thoughts for Rachel Maddow’s next book; news from the Maryland marriage referendum; where flight attendants are still “stewardesses” and still have weight requirements; some shop talk on politics, national security, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal; and other matters arising. I’m on Twitter—@natsecHeather—and thanks for coming along for the ride.

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