Whether it was designed that way or not, Kerry’s story – and a few jokes about getting lost in the big building he’ll run – served as an antidote to speculation that an aloof and humorless old-style diplomat would replace the warm, passionate, and much-loved Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Kerry’s allusion to filling the “big heels” of Ms. Clinton – and before her, Condoleezza Rice – also touched, intentionally or not, on pre-confirmation speculation that the secretary of State job has in some eyes come to be considered as one best filled by a woman.
As Kerry himself quipped in his comments, “The big question before the country and the world” is now: “Can a man actually run the State Department?”
Gender typecasting of the secretary of State job was helped along by postelection rumors that the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, was President Obama’s first choice for replacing Clinton. Another factor was a line of thinking that holds that the rise of “soft power” issues in diplomacy, like development and democratization, mean that women may be best-suited to directing America’s 21st-century diplomacy.
As he assumed his new position, Kerry seemed intent on scuttling the typecasting – of himself, but also of the role he is embarking on, both on the world stage and within the president’s national security cabinet.