After watching the HBO documentary Manhunt about the CIA analysts tracking al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, I asked everyone I could if they knew the analysts had all been women, and not just the character Maya in the Zero Dark Thirty movie. I thought maybe I had missed something, but no one did.
They clearly are unsung heroines, and I'm thankful HBO has told their story.
As I sat and watched these incredible women talk about how they struggled to get their superiors -- all men -- to take them seriously about the mind-numbing details they were slowly but surely collecting about al Qaeda, I saw why.
They lacked swagger, arrogance and ego. They just showed up every day and did their work.
But, don't get me wrong, these women were/are the real deal. They were smart, but a lot of people are smart. More importantly, they cared about what they were doing, and they were persistent and didn't mind doing the shit work. They consistently poured through reports, news articles, photographs, and whatever else the CIA had at its disposal. The work had to have been incredibly boring at times, going down alleys that led to nowhere and starting all over again.
But, bit by bit, they -- together as a team -- put it all together. They urged their bosses to listen to them and, as we know, they didn't until it was too late.
Watching them understate the importance of their individual work and articulate the frustrations they felt, I was reminded of another group of women who issued warnings about another catastrophic event that, while not resulting in over 3,000 deaths in a matter of minutes, devastated the lives of millions not just in the United States but across the globe: the subprime mortgage crisis.
Early on in 2005 and 2006, when Wall Street and Washington were bloated with and gloating over what turned out to be phony profits regurgitated by a corrupt banking system, three women warned a financial crisis was headed our way and were, like the female CIA analysts, ignored and basically told to shut up in any number of ways.
To a certain degree, their stories have been told:
Brooksley Born at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission was brow beaten by Timothy Geithner and other Wall Street apologists. In her own book about the crisis, Sheila Bair at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation recounts how she was told time and time again to get with the program -- a program designed by corporate suits that led us to ruin. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program or TARP, became a lightening rod of nasty criticism largely from men who, to this day, still blame borrowers for causing a global financial meltdown.
So what's my point? Is it that only women should rule the world? No.
It's this: In government, corporate and nonprofit offices across the country are women who are smart, work hard and care about their profession but are regularly ignored because they are viewed as too mousy or too pouty or too inexperienced or too something. And, sometimes instead of slamming things, making demands and plotting, they go to the bathroom for a good cry. Big deal.
It's 2013. Billions of words have been written on this topic since the women's movement became a topic of conversation around the American dining room table. I just thought I would contribute a few more.