dear Maude, you had a real problem in politics: You were rather lovely.
Former State Sen.
Jean Ford (D-Las Vegas), died in Carson City at 68 last Wednesday
after a celebrated bout with cancer.
I had the honor of
breaking bread with her and Sen. Joe Neal (D-North Las Vegas)
at a Reno luncheon earlier this year. She was as vivacious, delightful
and youthful as ever.
Back in her legislative
days two decades ago, Sen. Ford was nicknamed Maude because she resembled
Bea Arthur's character in the "All in the Family" spinoff TV
series of the same name.
Life imitates art.
Recent press accounts about Jean Ford's career related her difficulties
in trying to succeed in a male-dominated world.
Such a place is the
Nevada State Legislature. Worse, the ambiance Jean Ford entered as
a Republican freshman in 1973 was basically that of a boys' locker
room, the only upgrade being that the boys were usually dressed.
Not much has changed
since. A few recent studies have shed light on such matters. Especially
relevant are those which show that girls excel in gender-segregated
schools where societally-imposed sexual tensions have been largely
removed. (Alas, such environments have been ruled illegal.)
In the 1971 Nevada
legislative session, the U.S. Supreme Court's "one man-one vote" (pardon
the expression) decision forced the creation of voting districts based
on population. More women started winning elections.
The 1970's saw the
ascension of three immortals, all of whom would fall to cancer, a
disease often caused by exposure to toxics. The Nevada legislature
is quite a poisonous environment.
(D-Reno) was elected in 1972 from a heavily Republican southwest Reno
district. She beat incumbent GOP Assemblyman R.W. "Corky" Lingenfelter
with the help of a gimmick: a call for breathalyzer tests on lawmakers
before entering the legislative floor.
It topped all national
news stories out of Nevada that year. Having been through a few legislative
sessions since, I can say that Mary turned out to be quite right.
She was seated next
to Jean Ford. The good ole boys had reverted to high school, apparently
remembering that girls mostly stood on one side of the gym at a dance
or assembly, with boys congregating at the other.
They were joined
four years later by Nancy Gomes (D-Reno), whose northwest area
seat is now held by Vivian Freeman (D).
Gomes died of cancer
after serving one term. Gojack succumbed to the same dreaded disease
about a decade later. They all suffered for having been born female.
Back then, some state
departments and major cities assembled lobbying teams ornamented by
attractive young females, the better to schmooze the old goats making
Gojack often saw
her legislative proposals frustrated. On more than one occasion, I've
heard of male lawmakers telling their cronies "there's only one thing
wrong with this bill," then pointing to Gojack's name as sponsor.
What was so wrong
with Mary, Nancy and Jean? They
were not battle axes.
Regular readers have
often heard me decry the battle ax syndrome in politics. Simply put,
in order to prove that she's man enough for the job, a female officeholder
must take cruel, often nonsensical stands.
Better that than
stand accused of softness or, worse, of being stereotypically "hysterical,"
a term with the same word root as "hysterectomy." Pollsters have always
warned that a female candidate is in deep trouble if the public perceives
her as "strident" or "shrill."
Politics still places
a premium on battleaxes in office. The tomboyish Janet Reno
remains very popular as attorney general of the United States in large
measure because she's big and imposing. This is nothing new in government.
King Saul of Israel became leader of the tribe because he "stood
head and shoulders above all other men."
Alas, cosmetics still
count. Some women candidates this year are going all out to prove
they can quick-draw the death penalty faster than any guy.
Jean Ford, Mary Gojack
and Nancy Gomes were feminine feminists at a time when only first-wave
female politicos were acceptable. Tough-looking older women in blocky
business suits were taken more seriously by the good old boys because,
knowingly or not, they were reducing sexuality in the equation. Just
like the education researchers found out much later.
will forever remain indifferent to the athletically superior Peppermint
women politicians who endured the indignities of first-wave prejudice
did us all a great service.
When women reach
parity with men and minorities achieve proportional representation
in the halls of power, we will be better served as a nation.
That day remains
far off. Successful female politicians remain few. The most successful
often prove the weakest in office. The good ole boys do not mind letting
the girls have one or two tokens as long as they are non-threatening.
The Nevada State
Legislature remains a man's world of greed and corruption. Away from
their communities, many lawmakers still behave like schoolboys at
White men remain
overwhelmingly in the majority, reflecting their status and power
in the society at large.
But first wave thinking
is fading. We have already witnessed the emergence of a political
Xena, Warrior Princess. Someone who can be brilliant, effective,
feminine and tough, popular despite what formerly would have been
a debilitating mix.
Her name is Hillary
She owes Mary, Nancy
and Jean a prayer of thanks for paving the way. As do we all.
Be well. Raise hell.