In the fall of 1966, my high school hosted a career day and suspended classes so seniors could visit with possible future employers. The high school gym was packed, with full bleachers and people standing near the doors to hear the FBI presentation. I was one of a handful of girls in attendance as we watched a film about J. Edgar Hoover’s Bureau and the heroic actions of its special agents. It looked like an exciting career choice to many of the attendees, which included almost every jock and letterman in the senior class.
After the presentation, the floor was opened for questions. Patiently waiting my turn, I stood to inquire about field careers for women in the FBI. Once the agent stopped chuckling, he condescendingly informed me that women were not allowed to serve as special agents, but a rewarding career could be had filing fingerprint cards and performing other secretarial tasks.
It wasn’t until Hoover died in 1972 that the agency began to allow women in its ranks, and we still lag far behind the white men who run the place.
It’s 50 years later, and the FBI is still pretty much an exclusively male club. A white male club.
Yes, the FBI is very white. In 2014, only 4.5 percent of the FBI special agents were black, little better than the 4.3 percent who were Asian-American, but less than the 6.8 percent that were Latinos. White special agents make up 83.3 percent of the force. These figures all reflect a reduction in diversity since the years between 1998 and 2008.
The Marshall Project reports that the percentages are even worse as you proceed up the chain of command, dropping to 2.8 percent Latino and 2.5 percent Asian-Americans occupying high-level positions in the FBI. Blacks are represented at that level by 5 percent, fractionally better than the 2014 overall figure of 4.5 percent.
An even more out-of-whack statistic is that women, although they comprise more than 50 percent of the American population, wear only 20 percent of the special agents’ badges in the FBI. The FBI points with pride to the fact that 16 percent of the senior special agents are female, higher than any other federal law enforcement agency with the exception of the Secret Service. Even though one out of every two Americans is female.
Among the reasons for the low numbers of women in the upper levels of the FBI are the travel demands of the job: agents are frequently moved around the country, often leaving spouse and children at home. This is much harder for a woman who does not have a wife at home to support her career.
Women have long had problems with the male chauvinism of their fellow employees, and the agency has repeatedly been sued for sexual harassment and discrimination. Even Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley has taken note. From a 2015 NPR article:
So Grassley asked the FBI director about its treatment of female agents at a hearing last year. Grassley said he heard from one woman called emotionally unstable and difficult, all because "she pointed out that her men's size 40 hazardous materials suit didn't fit her."
The senator added: "Another whistleblower claims she was denied a job for which she was ranked first out of six candidates because her male supervisors claimed she was quote-unquote emotionally fragile following a divorce."
The latest actions of the director of the FBI, as well as the despicable leaks out of the New York field office, lead me to wonder about the real impact of the male domination of this agency that must, above all others, be non-partisan. As Steven Rosenfeld wrote for AlterNet:
The FBI itself is seen as a bastion of Trump support among federal agencies, adding another dimension to the stew of motives surrounding Comey. It is among the whitest of federal agencies, the most male-dominated, and the most sympathetic to any candidate who reflexively sides with “law and order” policies and the police. The demographics of Trump supporters track with the overall cohort of FBI agents who are whiter, older, male and conservative.
A June 2016 survey revealed that among Trump supporters, hostile sexism is an even greater influence than ethnocentrism or authoritarianism among Trump supporters. The survey, done by political scientists Carly Wayne, Nicholas Valentino, and Marzia Oceno from the University of Michigan, showed a high correlation between hostility toward women and support for Donald Trump.
We found that sexism was strongly and significantly correlated with support for Trump, even after accounting for party identification, ideology, authoritarianism and ethnocentrism. In fact, the impact of sexism was equivalent to the impact of ethnocentrism and much larger than the impact of authoritarianism. Again, this was in June — well before the “Access Hollywood” tape was released and several women came forward to accuse Trump of unwanted touching or kissing.
The scientists also showed that unlike fear, which tends to suppress hostility toward women, anger increases it. And Donald Trump has done an unsurpassed job of inciting anger during the 2016 campaign. So it should not be a surprise that a poll of likely New Hampshire voters conducted by University of Massachusetts political scientist Brian Schaffner showed that the impact of sexism on GOP support has increased markedly since Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
It strikes me that only a ragingly hostile sexist would take seriously any of the charges presented in Clinton Cash, a poorly-sourced work that, sponsored by Donald Trump’s campaign manager, and former Brietbart chairman Steve Bannon, was written strictly to bring down Clinton’s numbers before her campaign even got started. And yet, the FBI’s New York field office has done just that, and they then leaked the story when told to stand down. According to the Washington Post’s coverage:
The revelation, though, that public integrity section prosecutors — who are not politically appointed — felt FBI investigators did not have a case is a strong defense for Clinton. The agents’ aggressive posture regarding the Clinton Foundation also could add to the perception that the bureau is treating the Democratic presidential candidate unfairly.
While the Republican base’s hostility toward President Bill Clinton (and even President Obama) was considerable, it was nothing compared to the overt misogyny (C*nt, “Lock her up,” bullseye) that we have seen Hillary Clinton endure. From the very beginning of her public career more than 30 years ago, she has battled the vast right-wing conspiracy, fueled by hostile sexism, whose main objective is her destruction.
She is still standing.
A female agent who retired in 2006 was quoted in the New York Times article about her experience as a woman in the FBI:
“You have to have a good sense of humor,” she said. “It’s a man’s world.”
Maybe it is time that changed.