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Myrne Roe: Why not more women in elected offices?

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said that no one should vote for a candidate because of gender; we should vote for the one who is most qualified and represents our values (“Leading is not about gender,” Jan. 18 Opinion).

I agree.

That is the end of my agreement, however. I would add we need to explore why so few women are elected. Why the power of state government is so overwhelmingly in the hands of men – or, more specifically, white men.

A few years back, I spoke to a Wichita audience about women’s equality. One man tried to show that women with all the necessary qualifications can always excel by sharing the extraordinary accomplishments of his female relative many years ago. My response was, “That’s one.”

I could have added: “Why haven’t there been more?”

Wagle says her qualifications and legislative service have led to her election as Senate president. She boasted: “The Kansas Senate didn’t elect me because I am a woman; senators elected me because they determined I am the best person for the job.”

That may be the case. It also makes her the only “one” ever elected to that office. Why haven’t there been more?

Women of my generation broke a lot of glass ceilings in the 1960s and 1970s, but there is still a great deal of unbroken glass, ranging from wage inequality, health care denial and violence against women to the specific issue at hand – not being equally represented in government. These are all issues that need to be addressed with the experience and ideas of women, as well as men.

We should take a serious look at female candidates, their ambitions and capabilities, just as we do with male candidates. We need to recognize our cultural assumptions about electing women as leaders for the sexism it too often is. We need to think of women as capable not only of being productive in PTA, which the senator used as an example of women’s leadership skills, but in the entire scope of necessary skills in many areas that both genders have attained that make them good candidates for office.

We should vote for the qualified candidate who shows us the capacity for hard work, the interest in pursuing a better life for all Kansans. Gender should not matter. A vote should not be cast just to add more females to the legislative roster, nor should it be cast in the assumption that only males make the best leaders.

Myrne Roe lives in Wichita.