More female voices need to be heard

The February Chautauqua County Legislative meeting had a marathon quality about it. Despite the length of four hours, there was a lot of public interest about the County Home. Having been on the agenda before, the supporters to keep the County Home were there in force.

I noticed that women made 100 percent of the comments in favor of keeping the home, plus one man, which created a provocative question. What made my thumbnail survey so skewed? Was it a mindset of compassion, jobs, finances or a combination? Why were the pro-sell men so blistering in their comments and more likely to discount those who disagreed, citing such points as poor care and the investigations into the company, plus the personal plea of a 99-year-old resident? It was a compelling drama with the public involved.

Definitely, the general attitude in the legislature, supported by the County Executive, was to sell the Home due to its burdening effect on the budget. How wonderful it was to see how willing the legislature wanted to revise the “super majority” rule so a simple majority could “get the deal done.” How comforting to see that lack of being budget-minded in the past could be remedied by this sale. Yes, the elderly – our most venerable citizens – have to pay the ultimate price and feel insecure about shelter, one of our four basic needs.

Well, that was not going to happen as long as Lori Cornell could make a difference in the outcome. One of her grandparents had once been a resident at the County Home and she was willing to stand up for this healthcare facility. This is the second time Cornell has come to the forefront to protect a public asset, and the other had to do with Chautauqua Lake and algae growth.

Cornell always does her homework and takes on hard issues, despite the overwhelming number of men as legislators and committee members. Three women, which means just 17 percent is female, signifies a lack of balance in the county legislature regarding any debate of a proposition. When it came to comments made by males, their voices seemed endless. The most loquacious male in the legislature made people groan in my section of the audience. In addition, a few “point of order” interruptions were made in an attempt to cut off Cornell in her pursuit of accountability from the County Executive’s “flip/flop” position on the County Home.

This leads into the topic of Women’s History Month and the need for more women’s voices to be heard. An article published in the OBSERVER on March 7 by Renee Gravelle cited examples of women in Chautauqua County’s past. Her historical effort should be common knowledge for local females, providing successful models to imitate. Doing an amateur survey about esteemed women with bystanders, over ten people cited their mothers and teachers, traditional roles. Two answers made me do a double-take with “The Statue of Liberty” (yes, that was a male response), and a 20-something female mentioned Disney’s cartoon females.

Recently, a prominent female, Sheryl Sandberg, has thrown her hat into the self-defeating cultural ring of female images. Too many negative labels inhibit women. How often does the label “go-getter” refer to a male – a positive attribute? When it comes to women, that same quality would translate to “b**ch.” Sandberg, who is in top management at Facebook, explains her success by acknowledging her own initiative rather than “luck,” as some people would like to believe.

Needless to say, the cultural “blacklisting” of female achievers gets little attention unless it is in the areas of parenting, cosmetic fanaticism, prostitution or social deviance that preys on younger males – to name some bizarre attention-getters. Singling out the weird examples does not promote any woman’s best in a male-dominated society.

Thinking about some exceptional females and looking to the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, there were some eye-opening details. In the last 20 years, 35 percent of the winners were women. In 1979, Mother Theresa was awarded the prize for her work with the poor. As for the other females, generally, their efforts included human rights, social justice for the indigenous populations, resolving international conflicts and efforts for female rights. Two women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberian president from 2008-present) and Leymah Gbowee won together, along with a third woman, Tawakkol Karman, in 2011.

With American culture, the motto should be “The board room, not the bedroom.” For too long, women have not seized the moment and have let their efforts be controlled by others. Women’s excellence gets little attention unless it is sensational, especially when it is about their bodies. Wouldn’t it be exceptional to have some Harriet Tubmans out there being cunning, courageous and willing to take risks for gender equality?

Jeanne Polisoto is a Forestville resident.