Monday, March 1, 2010

Washington Social Diary

On April 29, 2009, the Bradlee family, Ben, Quinn and Sally Quinn, were interviewed by Carol Joynt for her program, The Q&A Cafe. It coincided with the publication of Quinn's book, A Different Life. To view interview in full, Click here.
by Carol Joynt

Once again Washington has proved it is a tough town for a woman unless she is a whore, a bitch or a heat-seeking wife of. Score on any one of those counts, or all three, and the men here respect you, because they fear you, and that equals power. Obvious ambition, and the attitude that goes with it, sinks a woman here, unless she possesses the heart and soul of a dominatrix. If Sports Illustrated did a Washington issue, instead of posing in bikinis the models would brandish carbide ball cutters. Maureen Dowd would be the cover, offering up a sultry “I’ll kill you and then I’ll eat you” glance, right down to her bare toes. Washington’s teen boys might not take it to the bathroom, but their Dads would.

This past week we witnessed the executions of two women, and I must say they walked to the gallows wearing game faces. Both accepted their fate, but neither conceded defeat, or they covered it with the accepted rosy spin.

Embattled White House Social Secretary Desiree Rogers, who had a brutal few months after the gatecrasher episode, resigned her post, telling Politics Daily: “This is a good time for me to explore opportunities in the corporate world.” The Washington Post’s Sally Quinn, who had a brutal week after she used the Post to publicly out private family business, was stripped of her print-edition column. She told Politico: “I have absolutely no regrets at all.”
Desirée Rogers leaves after a preview of the state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India (Brendan Smialowski/Getty).
The town’s gossip mill quickly responded with certainty that Rogers was “pushed” out and that “everyone at the Post” rose up against Quinn.

Both women were screwed long before they got tried for the stated crimes, a cauldron of misdemeanors that began with being smart, attractive and connected, a hat trick that has tripped up many accomplished women. Another crime was that neither worshipped at the altar of male superiority. It’s not necessary when you already have a powerful man in your corner. Rogers had her friendship with the President of the United States and Quinn has her husband, Ben Bradlee.

Nonetheless, they were visibly ambitious, flaunting it, and their ambitions made them vulnerable. They weren’t good southern ladies, waiting for favors to be bestowed upon them. They went after what they wanted, set their own agendas. But here’s the heart of the problem: they performed their professional roles not with skill but with the hauteur of entitlement. So, as Washington did when First Lady Hillary Clinton bungled health care, and when Caroline Kennedy deconstructed in the political spotlight, the town pounced.
Sally Quinn, entertaining at home.
There’s no apology necessary for demoting anyone who doesn’t do the job well, but in Washington women get roasted worse than men, and strong women get roasted worst of all.

There were bad report cards on Rogers long before Michaele Salahi, Tareq Salahi and Carlos Allen crashed President and Mrs. Obama’s first State Dinner. She got low marks for too much personal publicity, not showing up at parties where she was a confirmed VIP guest, and then all those rumors of East Wing in-fighting. After the crasher embarrassment, she did try to regain her ground, but it was too late.

Where to begin with Sally Quinn? Washington, especially her colleagues in the media, had her over a flame for decades. “I’ve been there most of my life,” she told Politico’s Michael Calderone. What pierced her thick skin, she said, was to have her family pulled into the fray (even though she put them there), and since the whole brouhaha centered on her scheduling her son’s Washington wedding for the same April day as her step-granddaughter’s California wedding, she has since removed the conflict. She moved her son’s wedding to a later date.
Secretary Clinton lit on the stage at the State Department to celebrate the holiday season,
December 7th, 2009.
The Hillary Clinton comparison is apt. She could write the book on the cycle of smack down and redemption for ambitious women in the nation’s capital. She’s strong and capable, therefore when she flew too high she got knocked down for being just that, strong and capable – and knowing it. At the State Department, where she’s more than qualified and seems to be genuinely happy, she’s back to being the town’s Prom Queen – the girl most popular with all the guys. But why’s that? Did she become a different person? No. She’s simply playing by the rules: keeping her ambition in check, walking with or behind but not ahead of the men. If she announced tomorrow that she’s running for office, the town would revert to vilifying her.

Contrast the town’s treatment of Rogers and Quinn with the understanding that’s been afforded New York Rep. Charlie Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who was found guilty of ethics violations. There’s no loud outrage. Calls for his resignation are tempered by comments like: “What he did was wrong, but it wasn’t a security breach,” “He’s been good for New York, “To know Charlie is to love him.”

Already the frenzy has subsided. The vulture class will move on and may begin to accord modest accolades to Rogers and Quinn. After all, under the rules of the pile on they’ve been shown their places. Rogers can write her ticket in the corporate world and will be lauded when she lands a gig worth $500K a year. Quinn will spread her awesome wingspan round her family and guide them through the wedding season. Her new perch online will likely be a boon for her. The Web is the future of personal exposition.

But back to the bitches and whores and the heat-seeking wives of. I’m not being arbitrary. The male ruling class fears those women, and Rogers and Quinn, while ambitious and fierce, were not scary. A while back I shared an email exchange with a genuine dominatrix. I was curious about her work and why she did it here. She said business was great in Washington. What do Washington men want, I wondered, what turns them on? “To be put in his place, especially by a woman,” she said. “You see, all day, he’s the boss. He runs on self-control, power, intimidation, competition. But he doesn’t feel worthy. He feels like a fraud. So he comes to me to be yelled at, spanked and flogged.”

I have yet to hear of a Washington woman who paid someone to flog her.
A Conversation with the Bradlees, Part II.

A Conversation with the Bradlees, Part III.

A Conversation with the Bradlees, Part IV.

A Conversation with the Bradlees, Part V.
Photographs by Carol Joynt. Carol is the host of The Q&A Cafe in Washington, D.C.
Visit her at: Follow Carol on Twitter.