The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

March 22, 2008

State, region lag behind nation in women legislators


‘Great resistance’

Reflecting on those numbers, some conclude that there remains a “glass ceiling” blocking many women from rising through the governmental ranks.

After Steelman was defeated in November 2002, she contended that “there’s great resistance and suspicion about a woman who’s outspoken.”

And others say gender bias remains an issue in government, even at the local level. Women’s campaigns and political initiatives are sometimes not taken seriously, they say.

“The ‘good old boys club’ is alive, well and flourishing,” said Ann Wilson, the only woman on Johnstown City Council and executive director of Cambria County Republican Committee.

“That’s not a myth,” she added. “That’s reality.”

Stereotypes and outdated ideas of gender roles are part of that reality, observers claim.

Allyson Lowe, director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women, Politics and Public Policy at Pittsburgh’s Chatham University, said it is not uncommon for a female candidate to be asked, “Are you abandoning your children?

“We don’t typically ask that question of men,” Lowe said.

State Rep. Chelsa Wagner, a Democrat from Pittsburgh serving her first term, said she has seen “overt” examples of sexism in state politics.

She adds that, when she decided to seek office, “I was offered other positions so that I wouldn’t run.”

At age 30, Wagner sometimes is mistaken for a staff member rather than an elected representative in the state Capitol. But she said she has overcome these issues.

“People know that I’m outspoken, I’m persistent and that I work hard on issues,” Wagner said. “I’ve probably surprised people sometimes.”

However, assertiveness also might be used against a female politician.

Some perceive a persistent bias against Hillary Clinton in media coverage. That trend, they say, may actually discourage women who are considering a political run.

Women wonder, Lowe said, “how will I be treated as a candidate?

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