American Word Interview with Madeleine Albright
Maeve Allsup | 10/20/15 9:22am
| Updated 10/20/15 9:22am
*Below is a transcript of the American Word interview with Madeleine Albright, edited for clarity.
American Word: Do you consider yourself a feminist? How has that manifested itself in your career and your life?
Secretary Albright: I do consider myself a feminist. I know the word has weird implications for people now, but I do think that its important to have women involved, whether its business or public service or…anything, and basically, because we are more than half the population, not only in the United States but everywhere, it’s a lost resource. I went to a girls high school and I went to a women’s college and when I first started teaching at Georgetown it had been a single sex school and so they wanted to have some women professors when they went co-ed, and so I originally was hired to start a program there, and really encourage women to go into foreign policy. I always have done that, and I really do think that things are better when women are involved, so yes… and it has affected everything about my life.
American Word: You are a very public supporter of Hillary Clinton. Why do you think she is the best candidate for president, and what would be the implications of finally having a woman in the Oval Office?
Secretary Albright: Well first of all I think that she is…Well we’re good friends so I’m a little prejudice, but I think she’s incredibly qualified, and better prepared to be president than almost anyone who’s ever run frankly. She… Well we went to the same college so I know her study habits, but when she was first lady of Arkansas, she did a lot of things already for children, and she was head of the Children’s Defense Fund, and that’s how I first heard her or met her, she was very very involved in really a very important social program to do something about children and women and education. And then when she was First Lady and I was Ambassador to the United Nations she got very interested in what the UN did and she…there were always jokes about her channeling Eleanor Roosevelt, but Eleanor Roosevelt was really instrumental at the UN, and would want to meet with various other delegates. Then we went together to the conference where she gave the speech about ‘human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights’. Then she was a Senator…there’s nobody who’s had a resume like that that’s run for president. Now, there are other countries that have had women presidents…and I do think that she (Hillary) will prove that she’s the best, whether she’s in the White House or somewhere else. I think it will very much be a historic moment, when we are able to say that we actually have done something like put a woman in the White House. Its very interesting to think about considering its taken us long as it has.
American Word: Given that you are a woman held in such high regard here in the United States as well as around the world, could you talk about what it was like conducting negotiations in countries where women don’t hold the same status as men and are unlikely to be in such highly respected political positions?
Secretary Albright: The interesting part is, that being the United States Secretary of State, most places I went didn’t have a problem with me being a woman, because I was representing the United States. People didn’t think that a woman could be the Secretary of State, when my name was out there…but then the Arab Ambassadors at the UN said ‘We have no problem dealing with Ambassador Albright, and we would have no problem dealing with Secretary Albright.’ And then, one of my trips was to meet with the Gulf Cooperation Council with all the Saudi foreign ministers, and when we started the meeting I said ‘Perhaps you’ve noticed that I’m not dressed the same as my predecessors”, but no-one had a problem and I was never treated with anything other than respect…So I did not have problems with that, interestingly enough.
To be honest, I had more problems with the men in our own government, and not because they were male chauvinistic pigs but because they had known me for so long. I might have been a carpool mother and a friend of their wife, and so they’d been to my house for dinner and things like and they thought ‘how did she get to be secretary of state when I should be secretary of state?’ So that was more of a problem, but it all worked, because Bill Clinton valued my opinion and always made sure that my views were heard, and people knew that he wanted me to talk.
American Word: What were some of the barriers that you came up against when you began working in government? Do you think that women today face those same barriers?
Secretary Albright: See my barriers, and you know I went to college somewhere between the invention of the iPad and the discovery of fire… but I had gone to a women’s college… the stunning part was that one time Neil McElroy the Secretary of Defense who was the father of one of our classmates spoke and basically at commencement, he told us all that our job after graduation was to get married and have interesting sons…and we all found that hard to believe… I mean literally hard to believe. I got married three days after graduation, and the first thing I did what I was expected to do which was to work on a small newspaper. So we were in Chicago where my husband worked for the Chicago Sun-Times and we were having dinner with his editor and he said ‘So what are you ‘gonna do honey?’ and I said ‘I’m going to work on a newspaper’, and he said ‘I don’t think so”, because Newspaper Guild regulations said that I couldn’t work on the same newspaper as my husband. And even though there were three newspapers in Chicago at the time, he said ‘you wouldn’t want to compete with your husband,” and so instead of doing what I might do now in that situation, I basically saluted and found other things to do. As far as barriers once I joined the government I was very lucky because I had all of my credentials together, I was Doctor Albright… So when somebody wanted the one woman I made sure that they knew I was dependable and qualified.
American Word: You joined the world of politics much late in life than many politicians, after you had established a family and received a doctorate. Do you have advice to give to women who may be in similar situations that you started out in?
Secretary Albright: The truth is I don’t, because part of what has to happen is that every woman has to work incredibly hard to get where they want to go. One of my favorite statements, and I actually just made it on Madame Secretary… I actually helped to write the script…there is plenty of room in the world for mediocre men but there is no room for mediocre women. You can’t just think that you will get a job for no good reason… And I think that the other part is you have to work your way up, you know I did a lot of Xeroxing and getting coffee…I always did what I was asked to do. I delivered. People knew that I would get things done and get them done well. And that is a big part of our resumes, are based on being responsible and being willing to do what needed to be done. And you have to learn to interrupt because you aren’t going to get called on…And often if you don’t speak up, whatever you thought was stupid to say some man would say and then everyone would say ‘as he said’…Women have to work exceptionally hard… and there isn’t any one plan, I don’t think. It’s using opportunities and not being afraid to speak up.