Deborah Birx Brings New Era of Feminine Gravitas

Our eyes have become accustomed to the visual clichés of the media. The male news anchor is a man of expertise and experience paired with a promising young woman who is smart but not yet accomplished. He has the gravitas of a person at the pinnacle of his career and she has the sex appeal of a vibrant young woman who has potential and promise, but is not yet proven. He is in his 60s and she is in her early to mid-30s. Around the conference table are men who are immediately recognizable; they are male leaders known for their experience and position. The two or three women are beautiful young aspiring leaders who obviously have the potential of “going somewhere” in their careers, but, alas, they are not yet seasoned by experience; they haven’t yet really earned their place at the table! We’ve all rejoiced at the sight of a few women around the President at the famous Resolute desk in the Oval Office and at the increasing visibility of colorful dresses among the dark suits, but the disparity of gravitas between the women and men has become more and more glaring.

Then, along comes the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Deborah L. Birx. At 63 years-of-age, Dr. Birx has earned significant credentials and she carries herself as a woman of distinction and expertise. She exudes gravitas – effortlessly, simply as part and parcel of what her years of diligence and hard work have shaped her to be.

Dr. Birx is a public health physician who formerly served as an ambassador and the director of the global HIV/AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Birx is also Col. Birx, having served for 20 years in the Army as an immunology clinician before retiring from the military in 2005. She has both developed and patented vaccines, “including leading one of the most influential HIV vaccine trials in history.” She holds two U.S. Meritorious Service medals in addition to the Legion of Merit Award. The director of the scientific advisory board for Pepfar described Dr. Birx as a “bold leader” who makes decisions based on the data and has garnered respect for being willing to make the hard calls.

Dr. Birx obviously belongs among the leaders who are advising the president and leading the nation’s response to the global pandemic of Covid-19. In fact, she is a stand-out among all the experts, male and female, who surround the president at the briefings. It’s easy to see that the camaraderie is among equals, with the president even teasing Dr. Birx about her minor fever the previous weekend.

Drs. Birx and Fauci at the White House briefing 3 24 20 (YouTube screen grab)

Birx is a graduate of Houghton College, a member institution of the Christian College Consortium (thirteen fine-arts Christian colleges “committed to the centrality of Christ and the full exploration of the meaning and implications of faithful scholarship). The CCC institutions are known for academic rigor in the tradition of the nation’s finest fine arts higher education institutions. Her medical degree is from Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA.

Clearly, Deborah Birx is ushering in a new era of feminine gravitas. Many of us have frequently said that when a woman is finally president, she will be a conservative. In Deborah Birx we have a role model for feminine leadership. She is a grandmother who is non-partisan. She has served three different administrations from both major political parties. Phil Burgess in his article about her, quoted a former colleague who described Birx as “fearless about sticking to what the data dictates regardless of politics.” The New York Post described her as having “had a tranquil demeanor and a serious but airy voice that acted as a release value on the pressure cooker we had suddenly found ourselves in.”

While little is known about her personal life, we know that Deborah Birx is married and that her two 90-something-year-old parents live with her. Her father is a retired professional mathematician and electrical engineer and her mother was a nursing instructor. She has two millennial-aged daughters. According to Oprah Magazine, Birx believes that her daughters’ generation – “bright and hardworking” -- is pivotal in fighting the Coronavirus because they are so successful at communicating digitally without meeting face-to-face. She said, “They intuitively know how to contact each other without being in large social gatherings.” Further, she described millennials as “incredibly good about understanding how to protect one another, how to protect their parents and how to protect their grandparents.”

Without so much as a nod to what current fashion dictates, Dr. Birx has made the scarf her signature professional accessory. She wears them in multiple ways – draped over her shoulders, around her neck, tucked into her jacket, and hanging over one shoulder. She wears a variety of understated, but chic or vibrant jackets. Her elegant clothing – that is so appropriate to her professional status and femininity -- is “quietly important, sending us subliminal messages of confidence and capability” . . . “she brings “her special brand of sartorial serenity and strength to the country.”

I mentioned Deborah Birx in a social media post last week. I was surprised at the number of responses from other women who are taking note of her excellence: “So gracious and brilliant!” “Stellar example of a woman who maintains her femininity while leading.” “She is wonderful.” “She is my hero.” “Dr. Brix is brilliant, classy, diplomatic, and data-driven.” “She demonstrates patience and grace under pressure while holding her own.” “She is one of the most precise and incisive communicators on this Task Force.”

One commentator described Birx as the “chic, but not too chic, maternal presence we didn’t realize we needed until she appeared.” Further, the author said, “Although she looks like a walking hug, she has the type of staked monster resume that would make her the No. 1 overall draft pick in any draft.” Even her clothes convey her competence as well as her approachability:

”During uncertain times, it might seem frivolous to focus on or even mention anything aesthetic, like clothing; but it’s quietly important, sending us subliminal messages of confidence and capability. In every briefing since the Rose Garden appearance, Birx has brought her special brand of sartorial serenity and strength to the country.

 

Unlike many women in top perches of American society, who thrive off the fumes of their structured, angular power suits and unimaginative shift dresses, Birx relies on soft silhouettes, feminine frocks and her seemingly unending supply of scarves that she neatly drapes and wraps around her shoulders. Instead of look-at-me reds and electric hues, she opts for muted dark blues and namaste earth tones.”

 

Dr. Birx is efficiently and purposefully “cleaning up our nation’s mess with her brains instead of a vacuum and marigold gloves. It (is) a testament to the versatility and power of femininity.” We can hope that she is also opening up receptivity in the media and public square for older professional women of accomplishment, dignity and feminine gravitas.

Our eyes have become accustomed to the visual clichés of the media. The male news anchor is a man of expertise and experience paired with a promising young woman who is smart but not yet accomplished. He has the gravitas of a person at the pinnacle of his career and she has the sex appeal of a vibrant young woman who has potential and promise, but is not yet proven. He is in his 60s and she is in her early to mid-30s. Around the conference table are men who are immediately recognizable; they are male leaders known for their experience and position. The two or three women are beautiful young aspiring leaders who obviously have the potential of “going somewhere” in their careers, but, alas, they are not yet seasoned by experience; they haven’t yet really earned their place at the table! We’ve all rejoiced at the sight of a few women around the President at the famous Resolute desk in the Oval Office and at the increasing visibility of colorful dresses among the dark suits, but the disparity of gravitas between the women and men has become more and more glaring.

Then, along comes the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Deborah L. Birx. At 63 years-of-age, Dr. Birx has earned significant credentials and she carries herself as a woman of distinction and expertise. She exudes gravitas – effortlessly, simply as part and parcel of what her years of diligence and hard work have shaped her to be.

Dr. Birx is a public health physician who formerly served as an ambassador and the director of the global HIV/AIDS program at the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Birx is also Col. Birx, having served for 20 years in the Army as an immunology clinician before retiring from the military in 2005. She has both developed and patented vaccines, “including leading one of the most influential HIV vaccine trials in history.” She holds two U.S. Meritorious Service medals in addition to the Legion of Merit Award. The director of the scientific advisory board for Pepfar described Dr. Birx as a “bold leader” who makes decisions based on the data and has garnered respect for being willing to make the hard calls.

Dr. Birx obviously belongs among the leaders who are advising the president and leading the nation’s response to the global pandemic of Covid-19. In fact, she is a stand-out among all the experts, male and female, who surround the president at the briefings. It’s easy to see that the camaraderie is among equals, with the president even teasing Dr. Birx about her minor fever the previous weekend.

Drs. Birx and Fauci at the White House briefing 3 24 20 (YouTube screen grab)

Birx is a graduate of Houghton College, a member institution of the Christian College Consortium (thirteen fine-arts Christian colleges “committed to the centrality of Christ and the full exploration of the meaning and implications of faithful scholarship). The CCC institutions are known for academic rigor in the tradition of the nation’s finest fine arts higher education institutions. Her medical degree is from Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey, PA.

Clearly, Deborah Birx is ushering in a new era of feminine gravitas. Many of us have frequently said that when a woman is finally president, she will be a conservative. In Deborah Birx we have a role model for feminine leadership. She is a grandmother who is non-partisan. She has served three different administrations from both major political parties. Phil Burgess in his article about her, quoted a former colleague who described Birx as “fearless about sticking to what the data dictates regardless of politics.” The New York Post described her as having “had a tranquil demeanor and a serious but airy voice that acted as a release value on the pressure cooker we had suddenly found ourselves in.”

While little is known about her personal life, we know that Deborah Birx is married and that her two 90-something-year-old parents live with her. Her father is a retired professional mathematician and electrical engineer and her mother was a nursing instructor. She has two millennial-aged daughters. According to Oprah Magazine, Birx believes that her daughters’ generation – “bright and hardworking” -- is pivotal in fighting the Coronavirus because they are so successful at communicating digitally without meeting face-to-face. She said, “They intuitively know how to contact each other without being in large social gatherings.” Further, she described millennials as “incredibly good about understanding how to protect one another, how to protect their parents and how to protect their grandparents.”

Without so much as a nod to what current fashion dictates, Dr. Birx has made the scarf her signature professional accessory. She wears them in multiple ways – draped over her shoulders, around her neck, tucked into her jacket, and hanging over one shoulder. She wears a variety of understated, but chic or vibrant jackets. Her elegant clothing – that is so appropriate to her professional status and femininity -- is “quietly important, sending us subliminal messages of confidence and capability” . . . “she brings “her special brand of sartorial serenity and strength to the country.”

I mentioned Deborah Birx in a social media post last week. I was surprised at the number of responses from other women who are taking note of her excellence: “So gracious and brilliant!” “Stellar example of a woman who maintains her femininity while leading.” “She is wonderful.” “She is my hero.” “Dr. Brix is brilliant, classy, diplomatic, and data-driven.” “She demonstrates patience and grace under pressure while holding her own.” “She is one of the most precise and incisive communicators on this Task Force.”

One commentator described Birx as the “chic, but not too chic, maternal presence we didn’t realize we needed until she appeared.” Further, the author said, “Although she looks like a walking hug, she has the type of staked monster resume that would make her the No. 1 overall draft pick in any draft.” Even her clothes convey her competence as well as her approachability:

”During uncertain times, it might seem frivolous to focus on or even mention anything aesthetic, like clothing; but it’s quietly important, sending us subliminal messages of confidence and capability. In every briefing since the Rose Garden appearance, Birx has brought her special brand of sartorial serenity and strength to the country.

 

Unlike many women in top perches of American society, who thrive off the fumes of their structured, angular power suits and unimaginative shift dresses, Birx relies on soft silhouettes, feminine frocks and her seemingly unending supply of scarves that she neatly drapes and wraps around her shoulders. Instead of look-at-me reds and electric hues, she opts for muted dark blues and namaste earth tones.”

 

Dr. Birx is efficiently and purposefully “cleaning up our nation’s mess with her brains instead of a vacuum and marigold gloves. It (is) a testament to the versatility and power of femininity.” We can hope that she is also opening up receptivity in the media and public square for older professional women of accomplishment, dignity and feminine gravitas.