Opinion

GUEST OPINION | What glass ceiling?

Time was when a woman's route to success was strewn with obstacles. It was a man's world. When I first joined the Marysville schools in 1958, there were two female administrators, Miss Larson who served as head teacher at Getchell Elementary and Liberty's principal, Maxine Ebert. Aside from them, every top job in Marysville's eight schools and administrative offices was held by a man.

And there was a time when women authors took on men's names in order to get published. Most famous of those was Aurore Lucile Dupin who wrote under the pen name of George Sand. The publishers of early works by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell had no idea they had been penned by Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte. We were taught that the author of Silas Marner was George Eliot though Eliot was actually Mary Ann Evans who took a masculine name so that her writings would draw a larger audience.

That was then, this is now. To see how the ladies are fairing with publishers I inventoried 10 shelves of fiction books at Marysville's public library. Of 253 books, 172 were written by women. You can't trust names entirely because parents have been known to name a boy Shirley or a girl Jim. It happens. Allowing for such statistical errors, my small study still suggests that women authors now account for 68 percent of current fiction.

Next, I moved to the library's east wall to see if the majority of biographers might also be of the fairer sex. Since I had other things to do with the day, I cut the sampling down to five shelves totalling 137 titles. The result showed that only 34 percent of biographers or autobiographers were women.

Armed with data, I did what researchers are expected to do, that is to draw conclusions. The facts: Women dominate fiction, men dominate biography. Could this suggest that while women are better at making up stories, men excel at reporting facts? At that point in this writing, my wife and proofreader told me it was time to move on.

More than library books are telling of a sea-change happening in the balance of power between the sexes. Tests done in 2004 showed that 12th grade boys lagged behind girls in reading by 14 points while the guys were down a whopping 24 points in writing. In math, girls did better in class but lagged on standardized tests. In sciences, boys bested girls by 33 percent in Biology and 59 points in Physics.

That was only seven years ago. Since then, something has happened to narrow the gaps. Girls are taking honors in higher numbers. More and more we see them as valedictorians and scholarship winners. It seems that females are casting off stultifying stereotyping that left them unreasonably submissive.

Submissive wasn't on the resumes of today's new crop of female heads of state. After comparing candidates' leadership potential, voters around the globe have chosen to be led by women in Denmark, The Netherlands, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Liberia, India, Argentina, Iceland, Kyrgystan, Costa Rica, Slovakia, Brazil, Switzerland and a list of lesser known nations.

For the first time, women are outnumbering men in earning bachelor's and master's degrees in America's universities. The number of women applying to medical schools topped men applicants in 2003 and their numbers have been growing since. Chances are good that you'll be cared for by a female physician or nurse-practitioner when visiting a Marysville clinic.

Though wage-equality hasn't been reached in industry, consider that women in business now make 78.2 percent of their male counterparts' wages, up from a mere 64 percent in the year 2000. That gap is closing.

All this is happening against a backdrop of decrease in the percent of women in society. The ratio of males to females is now about 138 males to 143 females for a female percentage of 50.9 percent, down from 51.3 percent only 21 years ago.

The presence of female achievers is especially apparent among the leadership cadre of Marysville's schools. Whereas Miss Larson and miss Ebert were the only administrator in 1958, the district directory now lists women as principals of 15 of 22 schools.

The places where women leaders are most conspicuously absent are Fortune 500 boardrooms. The old boys web of control, still exercised in fusty atmospheres of Jack Daniels and cigars, appears hopelessly crippled by institutionalized in-breeding. They may be the only ones in America that don't see Corporate Ethics as an oxymoron and never was this deliberate blindness more obvious than when Big Oil's top poo-bahs (all men) testified before Congress that petro-giants couldn't survive without lavish federal handouts.

Marysville's lady principals are doing well. Female MDs seem to attend to our health as well as males. Women heads of state are performing at least as well as their chest-thumping predecessors. So far they haven't frightened me, which is more than I can say for certain unnamed alpha males.

Comments may be addressed to rgraef@frontier.com.

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