Headlines are still mostly written by men. Witness today’s column from the Washington Post by Monica Hesse. The headline reads, “Liability? These Women Are Powerful” which turns the article itself on its head. Hesse doesn’t question that women are powerful nor does she come anywhere dismissing us as a liability. All we need is a platform, a possibility: “start by getting them (us) in the room.”
The opening of the U.S Congress, two days ago, showed us what happens when we are in the room. First of all, we are colorful—”more like the United Nations than the (old-fashioned) US”—a commentator said. Headdresses, robes, brilliant reds, skins of various tones, many women, Latinas and Native Americans—the U.S. of today and tomorrow.
This was on the Democrat side of the aisle. Across the way, according to the same commentator, it looked more like a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce. White men in suits and ties. What we were, and the attitudes that have shaped us at home and abroad for many decades. Outdated, eventually outnumbered, and in the end kind of forlorn.
But we will not be moved to pity for the dinosaurs. As one of the remarkable women in Ntozake Shange’s 1975 play, For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf, reintroduced as a film in 2010, says there is never any reason to be sorry to those who have tried to keep us silent.
We were almost silent for a hundred years when we were scraping our way up out of obscurity, when the National Woman Suffrage Association, trying to placate, claimed that the few women in Congress then, all widows or wives, would be showing their “mother capacity” to soften the issues and calm down the men, “withstanding all political, social and economic innovations.”
We could only be accepted, then, as upholders and reinforcers of the status quo. Our most important qualification for public office was that we were “likable”—a qualification I have never heard applied to male candidates.
And we tried to show our likability for a long time, avoiding confrontation, trying not to make anyone uncomfortable.
We had to learn the hard way how ineffective that was. Many of the new Congress, the most representative in U.S. history, learned that lesson early when they were disparaged for their skin color or their sexual orientation. They come to govern, not to please. And that is the reason they are likely to succeed.
In a little more than a week, the New Mexico Legislature will open with its most diverse representatives yet, led by a feisty governor who has already served in Washington and knows the value of going to a meeting to which she was not invited, bringing her own chair and wearing a red suit.