Do Women Have Place in Politics?

A dozen years ago, when I was the first woman to be elected President of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce, I joked about being the "token chick."

At times, it wasn't very funny. It was reality.

Like the time a gentleman came to tell me that I probably wouldn't want to go to the Cape on a trip with the chamber officers and directors because I'd be the only woman.

They gave me a lot of reasons, or excuses. Like, my husband wouldn't like it. (He didn't object.) Because I might feel uncomfortable. (I wouldn't.) When all else failed, he said that the rooms were all doubles. (With straight face, I said I'd sleep with anyone they assigned to me.)

The chamber finally recruited another Westfield woman, older than I, and not affiliated with the directors, to "chaperone" me.

Thank goodness, times have changed. In recent years, the Chamber elected another woman president, Carol Mazza, publisher of the Westfield Evening News, and several female board members.

Mazza has a job few women have. Publisher of a daily newspaper. And she's probably pushing two decades here.

Having been a newspaper reporter in several states, I know that women haven't always been welcome in news rooms. As a fresh, eager, journalism school graduate I applied at two different midwestern papers. One said, bluntly, they didn't hire women. The other said I could go to the suburbs and write wedding announcements and society news.

Not this cookie! I had always written hard news and even won awards for trial coverage. Suburbs? Weddings?

I went to The Miami Herald, where I'd interned, and covered migrant workers, agriculture, police, political and military beats. In fact, I met my future, and still current husband there, covering Homestead Air Force Base.

Later, a West Virginia paper would actually call in an off-duty reporter and pay him (him being the operative word) if only women were in the newsroom when a crime story broke. Not my favorite state. Not my favorite paper either.

For many years, I was the only broadcaster in skirts at radio meetings. Certainly the only station owner.

Frankly, none of this bothered me. And it doesn't bother me to be one of only a few women in politics today. I've gotten used to being a woman in a man's environment, be it boardroom, newsroom or caucus.

Newsrooms are friendlier toward women, as are radio and tv stations. Discrimination laws are in effect, too. And organizations, businesses, clubs and churches have, finally, figured out that ability isn't based on sex, color, national origin, or any other false measurement.

Politics is getting friendlier toward women too, although that's not the point I'm gong to get to eventually.

When I was first running for State Representative, one of my (male) opponents sent out a press release critical of, not issues, but my hairstyle. I was stunned, but realize now it might have been retribution.

I recall calling him an aging athlete returning to the gym for one more victory. For which I apologize.

Now, I'm the first woman in history to hold the rep's seat from Westfield. But remember Alice Burke, mayor in the 40s?

Some 25 percent of the House and Senate members are women. Yet, it was just about five short years ago that a woman's restroom was provided in the members hall, just outside the House chamber, although men had one for many, many years.

A few members have started wearing slacks or pantsuits. Most still wear dresses or suits. No hats, please. (But, men are required to have on tie and jacket.)

To think that only female politicians, or all female politicians, care about issues like , education, and welfare, for example -- or to call them women's issues, is wrong. To vote for someone just because a candidate is a man, or a woman, is wrong. And to choose a candidate just because she is a woman is wrong.

And to think that someone can't be a good lieutenant governor because she is a woman is wrong.

A recent Boston Globe column attacking Joe Malone and Governor Paul Cellucci for choosing women as running mates made me furious.

The columnist, a woman, called Jane Swift, at 32, everyone's little sister. And Janet Jegalian, 63, everyone's mother. She called it "tokenism," "sophomoric pandering," "inexperienced women eager to play the supporting, subservient role," gestures meaning "serious women need not apply."

If, all things being equal, which they never are, if the two candidates for lieutenant governor were men I somehow doubt that any columnist would call them either everyone's little brother or father. They'd be a political prodigy, mature beyond their years, or a statesman, a man of experience.

I'm not that familiar with Jegalian, who made a suicidal bid to beat Ted Kennedy four years ago. But I am familiar with Swift--and she is hardly a "token" candidate.

The point is this. You've got to get the job done. Male or female.

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