While America was evolving into a more gender-equal society at the end of the last century, conflicts could arise when female Foreign Service officers went abroad to lead diplomatic missions in countries whose foreign contacts were not used to seeing women in positions of authority. This sometimes led to uncomfortable situations. It was the perseverance, forbearance and common sense of these women in pushing past the stereotypes to get the job done that paved the way for a new generation of female FSOs.
Anne Cary (seen right) was among them. A native Washingtonian, she joined the Foreign Service as an Economics Officer in June 1974. She served at the State Department in the Operations Center, the office of the Under Secretary for Economic Affairs and other domestic assignments. Overseas, Anne was posted to Brussels, Port-au-Prince, Paris, Addis Ababa, New Delhi, and Casablanca.
Anne Cary overcame gender bias to have a fulfilling career as a Foreign Service Officer, becoming the first female Consul General of Casablanca (1992-1995) and balancing a series of demanding jobs in the State Department with life as a wife and mother.
Anne Cary was interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy in November 1995.
“He realized when I sat down at the table that I wasn’t a secretary”
CARY: When they did my security interview [to be hired into the Foreign Service] my application had “Urgent” stamped on it. It was just about the time when they had to bring in more women and I am convinced they didn’t have very many female economists… (Anne with husband John McNamara and son John at left).
I think it was a good thing to move rapidly. It is something as I saw when my husband entered the Foreign Service. They wait so long before offering a position. Most people have to make other decisions in the time it takes State to process an applicant… They pushed through everything very quickly. It was clear that their numbers had to be improved…
There were 40 or so FSOs [hired at the same time.] I was the youngest. In fact at that point it was the 50th anniversary of the Rogers Act [which created the Foreign Service] and I was the youngest FSO. So, I was in State Magazine as the youngest FSO…
There were about eight women. One had been in before but had been forced to resign when she got married and had been reinstated, a consular officer. One was a former Playboy Bunny; she had done that while in school to make money. There were some ex-Peace Corps volunteers.
It was a fairly diverse group, an older group with more people over 30 because the age limit had been dropped. We had a couple of people in their forties. Most people were not married.
The A-100 class lasted for a six week period. One of the things I remember most was a lecture about social entertaining. We were told you should always serve dinner with parsley so that people can hide things they don’t like under it…
There was definitely an attitude [of sexism.] Because I was so young, I don’t think it bothered me as much as it would have had I been older. But, I was so much younger than everybody else around that when people condescended, I interpreted it to mean, “Of course, I’m the new person on the block,” and that was fine with me… Right, I will fix your coffee.
I can remember a Christian Science Monitor journalist walking into the office and looking at me and saying, “I like my coffee with two sugars.” So, I got up and got the coffee and went and sat down. He realized when I sat down at the table that I wasn’t a secretary.
It was also a time when secretaries had a lot of problems with female officers, because it is a difficult situation. A lot of these were the old time Foreign Service secretaries, many who had college degrees and just simply weren’t given the opportunity to become officers, and here comes this young kid who is an officer telling me how to do this job I’ve been doing for 20 years. There was a lot of tension.
Most of the men I found to be pretty paternalistic, which didn’t bother me much. And people were “Oh, oh! You can do that. Isn’t that amazing!”
But, because there weren’t that many females around, people would remember me, and to me that was an advantage. It was, “Oh, yes, it is the girl.” And it was “the girl,” as nobody would call me a woman at that point.
“I think people were making passes because they weren’t sure whether they were supposed to or not”
And there was a big thing about using “Ms.” It took a long time for the Department to use “Ms”. The attitude towards women was not as negative as I think it got later on when people started believing that the gender was more important than talent, saying, “It is a woman, that is why. They had to have her do that.”
There was no sense that women were being given preferential treatment at that point. Women officers, particularly in political or economic work, were still enough of a rarity and still having to prove that they could hold their own in the Foreign Service. So, the sense was a little strange.
I think in the workplace it could become uncomfortable because people really didn’t know how to deal with a woman, especially for a lot of the older men. If you were overseas and the control officer and invited to go out to dinner, it was all of a sudden awkward. It put men in a situation where they really didn’t know what they were supposed to do, what the ground rules were.
Sometimes I think people were making passes because they weren’t sure whether they were supposed to or not. That part of the etiquette had not been decided yet, how you deal with a colleague outside the office or even inside the office. There were people who were really used to dealing with women in a certain way and would continue to do that in a work situation…
I did think the age thing did make a difference, because older women really resented it more. Many of them were bringing in something from a second career and felt that they were being treated in a condescending way.
There was one case where there was a male supervisor, two women and another man in an office. The supervisor basically condescended to everybody. He would say, “Now you write a memo and say ‘TO: so-and-so,’ and put these points in it and do this and that and the other thing.”
I looked and saw that he treated everybody that way, even the Minister Counselor, because that was his approach to things. But the other woman really took it as pure condescension and denigration of her ability.
There was no effort to tell people how to deal with these problems. That one particularly came out very badly as it degenerated into a fight over a leave slip. An easy way to get back at people is to deny leave or to take unauthorized leave…
There simply were not very many senior women at the time. My first job was in the Ops Center… But senior women were single and they were not a role model for me because I didn’t want to be single all of my life. To me there was a difference because they had given up everything for their career and I was not going to give up everything for that career.
It was partly seeing women, not just officers but secretaries as well, who had lived for their jobs and were left at the end with not even a place to live. Later on there was more variation, but early on there were just not very many senior women in a position to go out of their way to make an effort for other women…
“The system has to realize that more women are choosing to continue working and have their children”
Sometime in February or March I got a call from my predecessor, Tim Foster who asked, “Could you be here [as Consul General in Casablanca] for July 4th?” I said, “No, I can’t because I am going to have a baby at the end of May, but will be there as soon as I can after the DCM [Deputy Chief of Mission] course.”
FSI and Personnel tried to be accommodating about timing. Because the DCM course is only offered three times a year I knew I was going to be nursing during the time of the DCM course. Special arrangements were needed because some of it took place off site.
Most people were in one part of the off-site place and I had a little cottage with two rooms and brought our nanny. She would come and knock on the classroom door when it was time to feed the baby and everybody got used to it. James (seen with Anne at left) was six weeks old and was the youngest participant ever in the DCM course.
For the courses at FSI, the director made her office available from the beginning so James could be with me. There really was no alternative for a six week old. And then I took three weeks of French and again…the ability of the system to respond officially is “No, we can’t do anything for you, I am sorry; there isn’t any space,” but individually the instructors were willing to find space [for nursing] using various offices or classrooms not in use…
The system does have to realize that more and more women are choosing to continue working and have their children. I had three children while working in the Foreign Service. I took six weeks off with James, which was my longest post-partum break.
It’s not an easily-addressed problem. It is inconvenient to have to come up with a substitute for a period while somebody is having a child. And now that the Department is insisting that women return to the United States to give birth, it means mandating a gap of really at least three months because most airlines won’t let you fly when you are more than eight months pregnant and most doctors don’t want you to fly either.
When State was giving medical clearances for women to have babies overseas, you had more flexibility. When our daughter was born we were living in Ethiopia. I flew to Nairobi two weeks before she was due and we returned when she was four days old. They haven’t quite worked it out, how to handle trips and all that when you are nursing.
I got an e-mail in 1994 from a female FSO who asked: “Please share your experiences of how you managed to have your kids and keep working…”
“I felt no sense that people thought I should be home taking care of our kids”
I was the first female Consul General in Morocco, so everybody was curious. Here I arrived with a three- month-old baby and two other kids. The Moroccans reacted very, very well, very positively. I had a sense that they could relate to me as a daughter, a sister, or something. I had kids (Anne is seen with daughter Elizabeth and sons James and John at right.)
I felt no sense that people thought I should be home taking care of our kids. Amongst the upper class [in Morocco] nobody takes care of their own kids, so it seemed perfectly reasonable to be out working. A number of women have taken over family businesses or are involved in the family business. So there is an acceptance, particularly for women my age.
There was a protocol issue. I arrived just as we were coming up to the 50th anniversary of Operation Torch, the allied landing in North Africa in 1942. We had a ship visit and then a major conference. Somebody in protocol in Rabat in the Moroccan government decided that a Consul General should get agrément [agreement by the host government to accept a particular diplomat.] We [normally] only seek agréments for ambassadors.
So while the embassy wrestled with a stubborn Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I couldn’t be received by the Wali, the Chief Governor of the district. This meant I couldn’t call on any of the officials that I needed to for the ceremonies.
Well, we worked out something where the Wali would receive me so we could go on with the ceremonial aspects, except for the picture in the paper, and officially I wasn’t received on protocol terms until Rabat decided.
The Governors are basically all run out of the Ministry of Interior, they are not elected officials. The Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t necessarily talk to each other, so you had to send everything to both. It was a real zoo.
But, there was a lot of ceremony. Moroccans are very big on ceremony. During initial calls I would be greeted by troops dressed in ceremonial dress with swords. No one told me what to do on these calls. I was unprepared for how often I would be asked to speak. I had no idea about photo opportunities, drinking tea and eating cookies and just the chit chat.
The Consul General was expected to show up for certain things and not for other things. Everybody would know who you were. You would go some place and be greeted with, “We are so pleased to see you,” and there I am in my blue jeans. I quickly learned you don’t wear blue jeans unless you are really doing something outside.
And the business community… everybody wanted to meet the Consul General. Everybody has a very, very positive attitude towards America. We are not France, and France is the dominant European power in Morocco. The common attitude was, “We don’t know much about the United States, but we like it. We don’t have any problems with you…”
“There are certain men who believe such situations call for a pass”
[I wanted to mention] what happens when your foreign contact makes an unwelcomed advance. It changed the way that I did business.
In Haiti, a high level contact made a grab for me at a restaurant. I thought I had been giving out the wrong signals and had made a mistake, so I decided I would never have a one-on-one dinner with a male. Okay, that seemed to work.
Then I stopped having most one-on-one lunches, because on more than one occasion a male contact, a colleague in the foreign government, somebody with whom I had to repeatedly deal, would make a pass… Some of them weren’t so mild.
And I felt partly it was the confusion, because people really weren’t so used to women in these roles, and when you put a male and female in a role that they are used to, such as a lunch or something, they put it into a social context and there are certain men who believe such situations call for a pass.
This happened enough that I decided I would avoid situations that would put us in a social context. I would meet in offices in a clearly work situation. I thought that would solve the problems.
But in Ethiopia, while seven months pregnant, I went to call on a North African ambassador about an OAU [Organisation of African Unity] issue and he grabbed and kissed me. Now, how do I ever deal with this guy again without retching? I just found it very bizarre, the fact that such a thing would happen.
It certainly happens with Americans, but it is much easier to deal with because you know their cultural context and know what is going on, and there are indeed ways of dealing with this if it continues to happen. But, when this is somebody that you need to see on a continuing basis, it poses problems.
It was a learning process for me. You know, there are certain people you can’t tell at all how they are going to react and somebody like the North African ambassador, there is nothing you can do, except make sure it is always your office [where you meet] after that, which is what I did — although the Tunisian ambassador shouldn’t be coming to call on a first secretary.
Some of the others were American colleagues, people who were traveling on TDY, with very peculiar ideas about what a control officer really is. I would disabuse them very quickly, that that wasn’t why I were there.
I had some great times as a control officer. But there were people who had different opinions. Because visitors did the Brussels-Paris circuit I could compare notes with female friends in a similar position in Paris serving as control officer for the same person. We would compare notes as to whether so-and-so had been obnoxious.
It was amusing that it wasn’t just a onetime situation, but clearly there were people who thought that was the way it was supposed to happen in terms of female officers.
As a supervisor I have never been required to attend anything on sexual harassment or what is considered to be sexual harassment, although I think the Department is starting to do that…
I had a secretary that was involved in an actual case involving the Department of Defense and she had to go back to testify. She testified that the accused grabbed everybody. This raised the question of why is it that some people could deal with unacceptable behavior and others couldn’t. That was the focus of the investigation.
But that puts the onus on the wrong person. It isn’t for the person who is getting grabbed to deal with it; it is why do people think they can abuse their position. As a female supervisor of males you get into it too, thinking, okay, that is right, it can work both ways.
To hear people talk about situations they have been in with a female boss was something I had just not thought about. Indeed the possibility is there and may be even more subtle and more difficult to deal with, because at least when you are a woman, everybody more or less doesn’t blame you for it. But some people would look at a man claiming harassment and think, what is wrong with him…
I learned that if it is at your house, you are in much safer grounds. So that is what I would do. I found that it was the one-on-one lunch or small group [that worked better] … if you picked your group right you could get just as much information and perhaps more as people bounced ideas off one another.
(John McNamara and Anne Cary)