President-elect Joe Biden made a passionate case for the nomination of retired General Lloyd Austin as his defense secretary. Usually, the defense secretary nomination is not hotly contested, but this time around, it has been. This is partly because for the first time a woman, Michele Flournoy, was a serious contender. Flournoy is well-regarded in defense circles for her expertise, integrity, and vision, and her advocates made a strong case for her appointment. Austin has more military experience — and if confirmed he will be the first Black defense secretary. Though some concerns have been raised over his appointment, there is no question that it represents a significant and important American first. It would be a grave mistake to minimize the Austin vs. Flournoy debate to a competition between race and gender. But Flournoy’s consideration for the role, and some of the conversation around it, does shine a light on a broader debate: the impact of increasing women at the table and what it means for a gender-transformative analysis.

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