Monday, September 5, 2011

Women Leaders Are Here To Stay!

An old adage about women may be what the world needs to remember right now:

God first created the universe, and rested.  God then created man, and rested.  He then created woman--and since then neither God nor man has rested.

Sometime back in the late 1970s, soon after the second wave of the women's movement was underway, pollster Louis Harris publicly observed that women who run for political office "mean business and they are here to stay."  Harris was not just being a prognosticator because he knew from his surveying that women were serious about balancing the universe of the sexes in the political world.

Today we see the major changes that have taken place since the late 1970s but the world continues to be out of balance. Women in the ministry continue to be lower in rank than the men and are routinely blocked by the stained glass ceiling. The numbers are far better now for women in elective offices in the U.S. and the number of women leaders in the corporate world is amazing. None of us will ever forget the consensus of the World Economic Forum a few years ago:  If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Brothers & Sisters they would still be around.

This blog today is the first in a series of reports on the progress of women in politics, business, and religion.
We live in a different world now than what was present in the late 1970s when Louis Harris made his pronouncement about women meaning business. We still mean business and have come a long way since I spoke to the United Methodist Women in January 1979 in Little Rock, Arkansas. My remarks were geared toward how it is to be a woman in politics but the questions these women asked at the end of my speech were significant. The interest shown and the attention they gave to women running for office was stunning. I was the only statewide female candidate at the time and few women even considered entering the political world.

My remarks in 1979 summed up the way it was for women in politics 21 years before the millennium changed. Briefly, I reported that females have been taught to avoid all situations in which they can be accused of being unladylike. Women stepping out of culturally assigned roles are considered aggressive, not assertive; hysterical rather than angry; strident instead of determined.  Any female who provokes the powerful is called rude and unladylike; if she answers press questions truthfully she is accused of talking too much.

In general, any woman stepping out of predetermined cultural roles was considered either a nut or "too ambitious" during most of the last few decades (before that few women were allowed in the game). As I pointed out to the Methodist women, I gained a lot of votes because I was a female but I lost a lot of votes because of my gender. Women just were not taken seriously at the time (and many are not today).

Is all the above still true in 2011? You may be surprised how much of the revelations above are still the basis of many people's opinions of female candidates. As presidential contenders, Hillary Clinton has borne the brunt of the harshest criticism to date but Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman are not far behind. Nancy Pelosi continues to be blamed for everything that has gone wrong even though she is no longer Speaker.

The series of blogs coming up here will include women's issues, women's rights, women's history, women in politics, women leaders, women in business, women in religion, and women's roles in our society. All these concepts will be explained in ways that will give the historical cultural background on women's roles in today's world.

An illustrative metaphor about the way females are customarily viewed (based on historical treatment and beliefs) can be found in the recent shock from J.C. Penney's tee shirt for girls:

I'm too pretty to do homework so my brother has to do it for me.
Instead of blaming Penney's for encouraging girls to pay more attention to their looks than their brains, just remember that this is one of those cultural curses on women that have come down throughout history.

Note:  This is my first blog since the end of March and Gerry Ferraro's untimely death because many things have interfered with my writings. Now I am fully prepared and have arranged the time in my life to keep up with the things I love, including the blogs.