Women in the CIA say that depictions of female agents are not accurate and that some of the portrayals are downright offensive. The women in the CIA sisterhood say that Hollywood shows female agents as seductresses who rely on their good looks and charm. However, many CIA agents say that simply isn’t true and that female CIA agents are far from centerfolds.
The New York Times, at the request of the notoriously tight-lipped CIA organization, spoke with current and former female agents to get a better understanding of exactly what the women agents in the field do. In the movies and on television, female agents are highly sexualized and can be seen sleeping with terrorists, seducing assets, and becoming overly emotional while in the field.
The real women of the CIA say that “honey pot” image is not reality and that they may, in the Middle East for example, play into some of the sexualization to get what they need, but that is not the norm. One retired covert agent says that you have to remove sex from the table very quickly to do an effective job.
“Let’s not kid ourselves. For me, working in the Middle East, there’s a lot of attraction for Middle Eastern men for Western women. I don’t mean necessarily sexually, although they may be thinking that. But curiosity, if nothing else. And we certainly have played that. With sex, you need to remove that off the table very quickly and clearly. Sometimes it’s ‘Get your hands off my knee or I’m going to break it,’ or you put as many people into the room as you can.”
Female CIA agents say they look at things differently than their male counterparts; therefore, they can offer a different perspective on a situation.
“Women don’t think more intuitively than men, but we tend to trust our own gut less. We are not going to put all our money in one basket.”
Though most depictions of CIA women are off, the women interviewed said that the struggle to separate personal life from work life is very real. In fact, some agents say their marriages failed due to their work and the inability to separate the two. One agent says that the job can cause a lack of compassion towards family members, as one is used to dealing with such huge problems. When trying to foil a terrorist plot, the problems of your teenage children can seem insignificant.
“To turn and be present and compassionate and patient with a spouse and children is very hard and does take a toll. And I’m not brilliant at it. Tracking the virulent march of the Islamic State, it’s hard to turn around and then care, honestly, about some of the minor things that are everything in your teenager’s mind. I deal with people who are trying to kill lots of people in horrendous, painful ways. So I have a wall; it’s really tall. Unfortunately, though, what happens with time is you can’t click it on or off. You just block the sensation of feeling. I’m no longer married because of my wall. So I have five kids whose parents aren’t together because I constructed that wall over time and didn’t know how to get through it.”
One agent said that the job can get so intertwined in your life that it is almost impossible to separate the two. For example, one agent briefed Condoleezza Rice while in labor. The woman says she was in active labor attempting to give birth to her child and was briefing Rice between contractions.
One particularly touchy Hollywood portrayal of CIA women is Zero Dark Thirty. The Band of Sisters, the nickname for the female agents working to take down Bin Laden, say that the portrayal of their fallen sister, Jennifer Matthews, who was blown up in 2009 by a Jordanian double agent in Khost, Afghanistan, was not the giddy character she was made out to be in the movie. They say that Hollywood took one attribute of that woman and ran with it. Her CIA sisters say she struggled leaving her children to go to Khost and that though she did bake a cake for the Jordanian who would end up killing her, she was a very strong woman.
What do you think about the way Hollywood portrays female CIA agents?
[Image Credit: Getty Images]