The Women of Ellensburg: Issues of Women in Washington State
Women in Positions of Public Influence
A Contradiction in Terms
Women and positions of influence is almost a contradiction. Though Washington State has a number of women legislators and local government officials, the proportion of women currently holding elective or appointive office remains pitifully small. Women hold only 21_0 of well over 2,000 judgeships and mayor and council positions of 265 cities in Washington. Only seven of the 49 state senators and 15 of the 98 state representatives are women. Five of the 111 County Superior Court judges are women; no woman sits on the State Supreme Court.
The reasons for this are both obvious and complex. Women have traditionally not held positions of power and, thus, there are few role models of women as leaders. This is reinforced by a continuing image of females as lacking power - an image that follows every girl through schodl and into adult life. Women who have attempted to break out of the stereotype by running for political office have often discovered that a female candidate is not taken seriously. This, in turn, has hampered fundraising efforts and the willingness of other wornen to run for office. A lack of support among women for women candidates has provided further discouragement. In other aspects of public life, as members of boards and commissions or ,s appointees to top-level positions in government, women are often not seriously considered, even though affirmative action is technically in effect.
To overcome these barriers to women moving into positions of influence, women have set forth several proposals. Some require formal or legal action; others are informal actions individual women can take. To overcome the perception of women as powerless individuals, women propose that federal Title VI I regulations prohibiting sex discrimination in public schools be implemented. Enforcement efforts of affirmative action and sex equality should be adequately funded so that the intent of the law can be carried out. Women's agencies and the offices of public executives (such as mayors or the governor) should establish and encourage the use of clearinghouses and be particularly vigilant that women be appointed from geographical areas that traditionally have been underrepresented. Public financing of campaigns would particularly assist women candidates. Women's organizations should actively promote visible role models of women in positions of influence. Individual women must encourage and financially support women candidates for office and political appointments. An informal network among women would make the availability of possible opportunities known.