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Progress Agonizingly Slow For Women In Politics
Published on Wednesday, March 8, 2000 in the St Paul Pioneer Press
International Women's Day: Progress Agonizingly Slow For Women In Politics
by Joan Anderson Growe
 

There is a tremendous amount of truth in Harriett Woods' new book, ``Stepping Up to Power: The Political Journey of American Women.'' I should know. If someone had covered up the title of the book and changed the names and places, I might have thought I was reading about my own life.

Harriett and I are contemporaries. Both of us came of age in the 1950s, when marriage, family and homemaking were preordained. Neither of us planned careers in public service. In each case, concern over local housing issues and involvement in the League of Women Voters drew us accidentally, but step-by-step, into politics.

Both of us served in our state's Legislature. Harriett went on to become the lieutenant governor of Missouri while I became secretary of state of Minnesota. She ran for the U.S. Senate in 1982 and 1986. I sought the office in 1984. Both of us lost to well-financed male Republican incumbents.

The 1984 Senate losses and Harriett's narrow defeat in 1982 inspired Ellen Malcolm to create EMILY's List, an organization to provide early money to female candidates. In 1991, Harriett became president of the National Women's Political Caucus, which served as a support organization for female candidates around the country.

``Stepping Up to Power'' is an eloquent chronicle of women in American politics in the latter half of the 20th century and a prescription for the 21st. It includes detailed accounts of Gloria Steinem's founding of Ms. magazine in 1972, Geraldine Ferraro's pursuit of the vice presidency in 1984, and the U.S. Senate's mistreatment of Anita Hill in 1991. It was Hill's experience in the confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court that led to the election of four new female U.S. senators the next year -- Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Carol Mosley-Braun, D-Ill.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Enormous progress? The year 2000 still began with eight men and no women running for president, with both Republican and Democratic men engaged in an endless debate about the reproductive rights of women.

Harriett concludes women continue to lag because our generation focused on winning a place in the existing system. The task ahead, she says, is for the next generation to focus on changing the system itself. The old system simply hasn't produced enough change to equalize attitudes about women's place in political life. Harriett's points about creating a climate for change are worth considering as Minnesota enters this year's election process with record numbers of women seeking seats in Congress.

Some 80 years after women won the right to vote, we in Minnesota still have no women in the U.S. Senate or House. Coya Knutson, Minnesota's only female House member, was forced ``home'' more than 40 years ago by her husband's trumped up call that ``Coya, come home'' and take care of her family. One suspects even now that if it were a Sen. Roseanne Grams rather Sen. Rod Grams whose family had a well-publicized problem with a child, voters would be asking to send Roseanne home to care for the family.

When I first ran for secretary of state in 1974 and traveled throughout Minnesota, no one knew what the secretary of state did, nor did they know what the treasurer or auditor did. People looked at Jim Lord, who was running for state treasurer, and asked: ``Mr. Lord, what plans do you have for the office?'' The same people looked at me running for secretary of state and asked: ``Mrs. Growe, are you married? Do you have children? What does your husband think about your candidacy? Who is taking care of your children?''

Those questions never stopped. There were many times I wanted to say, `'Oh, I've just thrown my children out on the road to take care of themselves and hope someone will come along and feed them,'' but I figured that would make headlines.

Even in 1984 when I was running for U.S. Senate, newspapers commented on the color of the clothes I was wearing. Reporters asked whether a woman could raise enough money for the campaign despite the fact that I had raised more than my male Democratic opponents.

It is possible, however, to see change coming. That gives me hope. I recently participated in the press conference when Rebecca Yanisch announced she is seeking the DFL nomination for U.S. Senate. Three people joined Rebecca in speaking to the press: labor leader Ray Waldron, Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton and me.

After the formal part of the program, I spoke with one of the female reporters, kidding about the fact that at least no one would write about the color of the candidate's dress. I said I hoped things would be different in this race for this woman, and the reporter said, ``Well, look at the difference.'' Three significant women were on the podium and two women reporters were covering the event. Change comes slowly, but there is progress.

As Harriett points out, when Bill Clinton and Al Gore were school age, their political ambitions were stirred by the example of President John F. Kennedy. Role models were sadly lacking for women of my generation. Sometime in this century, we surely will see not just the nomination of a woman as vice president and president but their election, not just the nomination of a Minnesota and Missouri women for U.S. Senate but their election. On that day, our daughters' granddaughters political dreams will also be represented.

Growe was Minnesota secretary of state from 1975-1998.

 

  • TITLE: ``Stepping Up to Power: The Political Journey of American Women''
  • AUTHOR: Harriett Woods
  • PUBLISHER: Westview Press
  • PRICE: $25

    2000 PioneerPlanet / St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press

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