In the last two weeks, three women who served as trusted advisers and assistants to powerful men have been in the headlines: Cassidy Hutchinson, the young personal assistant of Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; Hadas Klein, Arnon Milchan’s longtime assistant and Shimrit Meir, who was Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s political advisor. Hutchinson testified before Congress about what she witnessed during the January 6 storming of the U.S. Capitaol, while Klein completed her first day of testimony as a prosecution witness in Case 1000 on Tuesday.
What, if anything, can we learn from these three women? On the face of it, they have nothing in common. Hutchinson testified on the other side of the world, and Klein testified about incidents that happened a while back, long before Meir took her post and resigned from it. All three spoke bravely and honestly about things they were exposed to during the course of their work – Hutchinson and Klein in their testimonies, and Meir in a newspaper interview. Not everything Meir intends to reveal has been reported yet, so I shall focus here on the first two.
The 1940 Cary Grant film popularized the term “girl Friday” – referring to the hero’s personal assistant who can be counted on to take care of everything. (The name derives from the literary character Friday, who was Robinson Crusoe’s loyal helper.)
The image of the woman who can do whatever needs to be done, the confidante and fixer who sees all but remains on the outside – is practically a cliché (think of redheaded Joan from “Mad Men”). What’s troubling is not just that it is still relevant even in 2022 – apparently this is what happens when we’re better at multitasking and attention to detail – but that they are essentially invisible to their bosses.
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Neither Mark Meadows nor Arnon Milchan – not to mention Donald Trump or Benjamin Netanyahu – ever imagined that the day would come when all of their most shameful deeds would be revealed in a legal proceeding by a woman they deemed to be a mere assistant. This is not (only) because of the complete trust they placed in them; it is because of the meager credit they gave them as sentient beings who actually notice what is happening around them. Power systems and hierarchies are still, for the most part, based on testosterone. Even when women attain positions of power (even if these positions are not perceived as such), they are not taken seriously enough to make anyone wary.
After testifying Tuesday, Klein told journalists: “I am doing my civic duty. You do what needs to be done.” Hutchinson once said something similar in a talk with students at her alma mater, as reported in the Washington Post: “I have set a personal goal to pursue a path of civic significance.” Despite their relatively junior status, their presence on the fringes, their almost being part of the backdrop to the actions of the “big boys,” Hutchinson and Klein are liable to bring about much more dramatic changes than those who hired them would ever have thought possible.
Women should be appreciated for their work and their accomplishments, not on the basis of their gender. By the same token, they should not be treated dismissively because of their gender. What we can learn from the testimonies of Hutchinson and Klein is that women are not background scenery. Be they office underlings, or, all the more, so party to confidences even if not privy to the decision-making, they know, they pay attention, they care. And as the events of recent days have shown – If necessary, they will do something about it.