San Jose was once the female capital of the world for political power. Janet Gray Hayes was the first woman mayor of a major city. She had a council consisting mostly of women. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors also had a majority of women. Gender parity was coming into vogue.
But times have changed and fewer women are now in local public office. The Board of Supervisors has just one woman, Cindy Chavez, and previous to her special election victory the board was all male. San Jose has three women councilmembers, one of whom was appointed on an interim basis (Margie Matthews) and another who is in her final two years in office (Rose Herrera). The third, Magdalena Carrasco, is rumored to be looking at higher office.
The South Bay legislative delegation once boasted two state senators, Becky Morgan and Elaine Alquist, and assemblywomen Leona Egland, Rebecca Cohn and Sally Leiber. Now just a single woman represents the South Bay, Nora Campos, and she will term out in 2016.
Only in Congress, where Mike Honda joins Zoe Lofgren, Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier, is there an actual majority of women representing Silicon Valley. But both the House and U.S. Senate have sizable male majorities.
Two nationally prominent women, Barbara Boxer and Barbara Milkulski, have already announced their plans to retire from the U.S. Senate. So, while likely presidential candidate Hillary Clinton seeks to bust the gender glass ceiling, there is a tremendous need for today’s leaders to also look at how to bring more talented women into positions of power.
Groups such as Emerge, Emily’s list, Democratic Activists for Women Now and the National Women’s Political Caucus are becoming more active and their leaders more attentive to gender politics. It is not simply enough to elect women leaders to change the culture in which they are forced to compete.
The recent flap with The Daily Fetch is the latest example. The Fetch is a anonymous links blog that shows open disdain for some local politicians. It is considered snarky, but it often crosses the line with attacks on people opposed by liberals and progressives. Recently, the blog referred to our current vice mayor, Rose Herrera, by her husband’s last name. She kept her surname from a prior marriage.
Progressive women, many of whom are not often quick to praise the vice mayor, came to Herrera’s defense because a woman’s name is her choice—not the media’s. This is not the first time such issues have been raised. Both the Mercury News and Metro (parent company of San Jose Inside) have received criticism in the past for their coverage of women in politics. The people who have spoken out do not usually take issue with substance of reports, but more so how women are portrayed in contrast to men—and the double standard that is easily identifiable.
Nobody cares when Bill Clinton changes his hairstyle, unless he holds up airport traffic getting it cut. Nobody comments on Dick Blum’s fashion choices when he stands next to his wife, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. They don’t refer to him as Mr. Feinstein. Nobody questions Mitt Romney’s commitment to his numerous grandchildren when he ran for president, but for some reason it is a story for Hillary.
To many in the good old boy establishment, much of this is dismissed as political correctness or women being overly sensitive to criticism—an insulting charge. The simple truth is that there is a new generation of women who will not play by the outdated codes and double standards that continue to persist. They see rules that need rewriting and want to change perceptions.
What women wear, whom they date, what they look like and what name they choose to be called is not relevant to the content of their character. It is not news and it will be challenged.
The next generation of women will not be forced to break as many glass ceilings. They will grow up emancipated from the constraints their mothers faced. They will expect to be treated as equals. Like their male counterparts, they will not be monolithic, nor share the same philosophy, and they will speak up without waiting to be called upon.
But they will still need help from the leaders who are currently breaking barriers to succeed. It is imperative that the women who are achieving so much today lend a hand to their sisters coming up behind them. As we have seen in Silicon Valley, nothing lasts forever and the fight for equality continues.