When Secretary of State Hilary Clinton does a world tour, or speaks on the current status of American foreign policy, I pay attention. Not because of her gender, politics, or husband, but because she has direct access to issues that I should be concerned with. Resultantly, nothing irritates me more than when the discussion of a powerful female leader centers on her clothing choice rather than her policy stance. Nevertheless, the American people eat up this type of news. Even with the current focus on women’s issues, the person who should be the pinpoint of female American political success is watered down to a model of wing-tipped glasses and power pantsuits.
We can, and should, do better than that by our elected officials. Especially in Montana, the state where Kim Gillian says, “Opportunity knocks for women.”
As a state, we peaked in 2009 with 26% of the legislature consisting of women. Currently, four executive positions and 25% of the legislature are female. Ironically, this is bit ahead of the curve when compared to the rest of the United States and we should be proud of it.
But, there are still areas that need work. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of any Montana dining room when in 1999 Rick Hill deemed his opponent Nancy Keenan, who is without children due to a necessary hysterectomy, unfit for office because she could not understand the needs of the mothers whose children were targeted at Columbine. Aside from the inappropriateness of using the shooting as an opportunity to score political points, this argument is particularly ridiculous when considering the myriad of other issues that Hill could have attacked on instead, like he would have with another man. We obviously still have room for improvement in terms of taking seriously the issues surrounding equality of representation in Montana.
I would argue further that we should be outraged by political rhetoric, serious or not, that promotes quiet hostility against, or the dismissal of, women’s participation in the political process (i.e. Rush Limbaugh on “how it all went wrong”, when “women got the right to vote.”). Silent allowance promotes disregard for women in power outside of election season and healthcare debates. One would hope that, from both sides of the isle, the approach to our female representatives would be with the same level of respect and attention demanded of any elected official, regardless of what he or she is wearing. For some reason, this is not the case.
Please do not misunderstand me; I am not promoting voting for someone based upon their gender. That would be just as deplorable as NOT voting for someone for the same reason. My point though, is that a candidate’s oversight of another representative as a pretty face or rubber-stamp instead of capable, intelligent, and reliable should be a voting issue across Montana. It has to be. How can we hope to raise up a generation of Montanans that value every person’s individual rights, from the ranch to the capital, if we do not pay attention to half our population?
Luckily, Montana is blessed with a myriad of effective, diligent, and brilliant candidates that seek to improve our current equality status. “Inspiring a generation” does not only apply to the Olympic games; it should be a rallying cry for a conscious decision to continually support equality.