The Problem of Women in the Department:  Sex and Gender Discrimination in the 1960s United States Foreign Diplomatic Service

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McKenzie, Beatrice Loftus (2015)
  • Publisher: European Association for American Studies
  • Subject: Alison Palmer | Bill Wood | Constance Harvey | Edward Korry | Frances Willis | Frank Carlucci | Homer Calkin | John F. Kennedy | Joseph McCarthy | Joseph Mobutu | Michael Krenn | Patrice Lumumba | Rickie Sollinger | Sumner Welles | class action lawsuit | Foreign Service exam | Foreign Service Officer | Gender | gender discrimination | sexual harassment | sexual revolution | sexuality | State Department | U.S. Foreign Service | Wriston program

Alison Palmer, a United States Foreign Service Officer from 1959 to 1981, brought a gender equity complaint against the U.S. State Department in the late 1960s and then led a class action lawsuit by female officers that lasted until 2010.  Examining the records of Palmer’s grievances against the Department of State reveals linkages between gender, sex, and race in the U.S. Foreign Service.  U.S. Ambassadors to three African nations justified their rejection of her from their staffs by stating that Palmer would be an ineffective diplomat because she would face sexual advances by her counterparts in the African governments. Yet, as Palmer testified in 1971, the only threats of sexual assault she faced in African postings were by more senior personnel in the American diplomatic community. The actions against Palmer show how sex replaced gender as the excuse for discrimination against female officers in the late 1960s and 1970s Foreign Service.  The sexualization of women officers led to less rather than more gender equality among Foreign Service Officers.
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