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Scott Colom: More women in political leadership


Scott Colom



Women are probably the most under-represented demographic of voters in Mississippi. On a state level, Mississippi has never had a female governor, U.S. Representative or U.S. Senator. Hattiesburg''s Evelyn Gandy, who was elected lieutenant governor in 1975 and made two runs for governor, is as close as any women has come to being elected to the state''s top office. 


Locally, women haven''t fared much better. To the best of my knowledge, Columbus has never had a female mayor, county supervisor, county sheriff, county constable, or county attorney. And there is no shortage of qualified women for these offices. Women like Glenda Buckhalter and Allegra Brigham have been actively involved and played important roles in our community for many years. (I have no idea if Mrs. Brigham is interested in politics; I''ve been unsuccessfully trying to convince Ms. Buckhalter to run for office).  


When I pointed this out to a female friend recently, the person looked at me incredulously and said, "of course we wouldn''t have a female sheriff." Initially, my friend''s statement didn''t strike me as odd - female sheriffs aren''t commonplace. However, later, I realized my friend''s mindset, and my acceptance of it, are major reasons women aren''t better represented.  


My friend assumed being sheriff was a man''s job. Yet, this bias isn''t even accurate. The days of the sheriff riding on horseback and having gun battles with the toughest gangster in town are long gone. (In those Westerns, the sheriff is never a woman, but I bet many of our female police officers could hold their own in a gun fight). In our current world, a good sheriff needs to be fair and honest, unwilling to treat friends and supporters differently than strangers. The sheriff needs to be a good manager, making sure deputies and employees have the right direction. A sheriff has to be an effective communicator, so the public knows what to expect from county law enforcement. The sheriff needs to be a leader, a person who diagnoses the right problems and who determines the solution based on careful analysis and thought. As a man, I can conclusively say, we have no genes that make these needs more likely in us.  


Unfortunately, similar misguided stereotypes plague women in other political offices and leadership roles. These stereotypes persist for several reasons. First, the stereotypes are self-fulfilling. There are so few women currently holding political office that young girls don''t grow up with these types of role models or ambitions. Second, even in the 21st century, women are often expected to put professional goals behind family responsibilities. Because women are considered the primary caregiver of the family, they are pressured to prioritize the needs of the family over professional ambition. Men, on the other hand, are considered the family breadwinner and are therefore encouraged to pursue their careers.  


That''s not to suggest there''s anything negative about women choosing to put their families before their careers. After all, the family is the foundation of a healthy society. The point is, women should have the same choices as men. Men shouldn''t assume that women have to sacrifice their professional goals for the family, or that men''s professional goals should never be sacrificed for women''s.  


It''s also not fair to suggest that women have gender specific genes that may make them better for politics than men. That assumption repeats the same past mistake. Instead, we should recognize that leadership has nothing to do with gender. Voters should have the opportunity to select the best candidate, regardless of gender, and not have their choices prejudged by past stereotypes. When we can get past these stereotypes, this alone will result in better representation of women in Columbus and in Mississippi.


Scott Colom is a local attorney.


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Reader Comments

Article Comment zenreaper commented at 7/6/2011 5:01:00 PM:

Women doing certain jobs is an interesting topic. While we are being raised to believe they are "equal", many still demand special treatment. Women want to be paid the same as men for jobs, yet demand lower physical standards. Women want to be equal to men, but ask most women if they should pay for a date, and you will get the "three headed alien" look. In my opinion, if women want to be taken as serious equals, they need to stop expecting differential treatment.

If you doubt WHY our younger generation still looks at it that way, consider that this summer, as many of our high school graduates turn 18, they will have spent 12 years in school being told men and women are equal...then the MEN will have to go and register for selective service and the women will not. Equality is not a difficult concept.


Article Comment thinkingaboutit commented at 7/7/2011 8:22:00 AM:

The largest and most crime ridden city in the state is headed by a female chief. She is not the first female to lead the City of Jackson Police DEpartment-Chief Rebecca Coleman. Note the City of Jackson crime has decrease. We cannot say its just because of her skills ( so much goes into decreasing crime for one person to receive the absolute credit) or for that matter the skills of a man but it most certainly speaks to her leadership.

Also lets not forget Amy Tuck-LT Gov of the State.


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