Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Stepping Up to Power"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Stepping Up to Power"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

Harriet Woods, a Missouri State Senator who became Lt. Governor and then President of the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), has written her autobiography. This book presents her insights into the changes she has witnessed over past decades, especially changes in how the public views women in politics.

It was only three decades ago when few were concerned with how the majority of women felt on issues, according to Ms. Woods. Few women existed in such professional occupations as physician or attorney. (In 1960, 95% of law degrees were awarded to men. In 1976, women composed 19% of law degree recipients. Today, about one third of law school graduates are female.) The use of contraceptives was a crime. The term “domestic violence” had yet to enter our collective vocabulary. Want ads separated jobs into “male” and “female” categories. Young people unfamiliar with the recent past are often amazed when they discover how far women, as a group, have advanced in some (but definitely not all) areas within one generation.

Women have long been in the labor force, Harriet Woods notes. One third of all women age 16 and over were in the labor force during the 1950s. The difference then was most female occupations tended to be in low paid positions, such as domestic servants. Women who opted for college in the 1950s often did so in order to find a husband, as one third of all coeds dropped out.

The 1960s opened new discussions into the status of women, Harriet Woods writes. More women entered politics. Even today, though, very few women with small children are politically active. Harriet Woods notes that 85% of female office holders are over 40 years in age. By comparison, 28% of male office holders are age 40 or younger.

Harriet Woods entered politics because of her children. Cars driving over a loose manhole near her house kept her children from their proper sleep. Angered by public inattentiveness to her complaints, she got her neighbors to sign a petition asking for the problem’s resolution. Her continued activism on city affairs led her to an appointment on a City Council vacancy. For there, she was elected to the Missouri State Senate in 1976.

In a similar theme written by some other female politicians, Harriet Woods at first did not want to be identified as a “women’s issues” politician. Harriet, though, quickly learned there was a substantial need for her to, in fact, advocate “women’s issues”. She at first avoided being the prime sponsor of an Equal Rights Amendment proposal yet had to when the original prime sponsor left office. Senator Woods was able to make her mark in other areas, as when she guided to passage a Nursing Home Reform Bill that became a model for legislation in other states as well.

Harriet Woods entered the public arena in a time when many female politicians needed their husband’s approval to go into politics. It was hard to fundraise at a time when many women were not allowed to have their own checkbooks let alone get their husbands to financially support a female candidate. (Bank discrimination against giving women their own checkbooks did not become illegal until 1972.) She credits her election to the Senate on a strong door to door campaign effort along with the press connecting her to her son, the quarterback of the Missouri football team.

Eagleton Institute research finds women legislators are more apt than male legislators to involve citizen participation in the legislative process. Senator Woods was a champion of involving the public. She credits public support for assisting her legislative achievements.

Harriet Woods ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982. She defeated the candidate of the Democratic Party establishment by a 2 to 1 ratio in the primary and then narrowly lost to John Danforth while receiving 49.1% of the vote. She was later elected Lt. Governor, headed NWPC, and now teaches college. She urges more women to run for the state legislature to create a critical mass to get more women into Congress and then someday the White House.

The role of women in politics has changed dramatically in Harriet Wood’s lifetime. This book is a good record of those changes written by someone who both observed and participated in those changes.


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