Published February 29, 2012 in the Ventura County Star
Last week, despite the enormous strides being made by the rest of the world, the United States celebrated but another Presidents Day without a female president.
At present, 19 members of the fairer sex rule as head of state, and that's not counting the six who serve as queen or vice regal. While admittedly the membership roster for this unique "women's club" can only be characterized as modest, each name, which will invariably be followed by the designation "first" in history books, serves up a soupon of hope for subsequent generations of women as well.
The honor of being named the first female government leader goes to Khertek Amyrbitovna Anchimaa-Toka, who chaired the parliament of the Tuvan People's Republic from 1940 to 1944. A decade later, Suhbaataryn Yanjmaa served as acting president of Mongolia.
The 1960s introduced the world to a trio of female prime ministers: Sirimavo Bandarannaike (Sri Lanka), Indira Gandhi (India) and Golda Meir (Israel).
In college, I hung a poster of Ms. Meir in my bedroom that asked a rather impertinent question, "But can she type?"
During the 1970s, of the five women ruling their countries, the media spotlight shimmered largely on Argentina's Isabel Martinez de Perón and the United Kingdom's Margaret Thatcher.
During the 1980s, of 10 female national leaders, the only recognizable name seems to be Corazon Aquino of the Philippines, who ousted Ferdinand Marcos and outed wife Imelda's closetful of shoes.
The 1990s produced a bumper crop of women in charge, including 13 heads of state and 15 prime ministers. Citizens on every continent were becoming more comfortable with the management style characterized by experts as uniquely female.
So what's up with America? Polls keep demonstrating that voters reject the idea of a woman as president — not because they can't handle a woman as leader of the free world but because they can't handle a woman as commander in chief.
Hollywood hatched the idea for the eponymous television series starring Geena Davis to deliberately challenge sexist perceptions. The show's cancellation demonstrated that neither the viewing public nor the voting public had changed their minds about accepting a female commander in chief.
Here in Ventura County, gender equity is on hold as well. According to the Ventura County Women's Political Council, females make up a mere 32 percent of all city councils while holding 40 percent of the seats on education boards as well as the Board of Supervisors. So what's really problematic about so few women in politics?
Equity simply doesn't percolate up. Until Chief Kathleen Sheehan was tapped for the job of top cop in Port Hueneme (September 2010) and Chief Jeri Williams took over the Oxnard Police Department (January 2011), female chiefs of police were even scarcer than snowflakes in Ventura County.
Same song, second verse re: the Port of Hueneme. Until Jan. 3, 2011, when Commissioner Mary Anne Rooney took her seat, not a single female had served on the Oxnard Harbor District board. We are talking about 75 years despite a number of women tossing their bonnets into the ring.
Just last week, however, I had the pleasure of meeting Kristen Decas, the Port of Hueneme's first female executive director. First Rooney, then Decas — coincidence? Another impertinent question.
In a May 2009 article, Time magazine took a good hard look at female management style. The conclusion? Having women in charge is not only extremely lucrative but also essential to our brave new world.
The workplace-research group Catalyst studied 353 Fortune 500 companies and reported that those with the most women in senior management had the highest return on equity — by more than a third.
Scholars from Cambridge University and the University of Pittsburgh examined the so-called (by critics) "indecisiveness" that supposedly plagues female management style. It seems, according to the studies, that women do employ more caution than men — because they focus on the long term. Males, on the other hand, get off on risk — especially when surrounded by other men.
Then Time asked the most impertinent question: "Wouldn't the economic crisis have unfolded a bit differently if Lehman Brothers had had a few more women on board?"
With respect to current voters, while some perceive consensus building, conciliating and collaborating — the signature skills of female management style — as strengths that make women uniquely suited to lead, others perceive them as weaknesses. Still, our young people may very soon break this tie.
So I don't know how many more Presidents Days will pass without a female president, but Barbara Bush got my vote when she told Wellesley grads in 1990, "Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow in my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the President's spouse. I wish him well!"