by Kayla Lutes, Features Editor
In 2017, having just seen a woman’s name on the ballot for the chief role in the nation, it seems wearisome that women, like their counterparts who marched for the right to vote a century before, are still marching for equality. Articles like the one that showed up in my Twitter feed by Suzanne Venker, author of “The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men and Marriage: How Love Works,” that suggest alpha females “need to find their inner beta” when it comes to their marriage, have a similar time-traveling effect.
To paraphrase the phrase that Senator Elizabeth Warren’s efforts on the senate floor turned into a battle cry, “Nevertheless, we persist.” This phrase, originally used against Warren, has been adopted by the pro-women cause. Warren was silenced when reading a 1986 letter by Coretta Scott King against Jeff Sessions to the Senate in opposition of his appointment as attorney general. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated, “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
Arguments like Venker’s are precisely what women must persist against. The negative view of an “alpha wife” brings to mind the stereotypical overbearing wife whose constant nagging and extreme expectations paralyze her husband, suggesting that women cannot be strong-willed, determined or ambitious without taking those traits away from men. This line of thinking makes it seem like woman leadership takes away the right of a man to lead.
On the contrary, I believe that if a woman puts her all into her career or relationship, it will only help those pursuits to grow, and I believe the men involved can be strengthened and challenged as well, instead of shriveled into compliant “yes men.” Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man [or woman] sharpens another.” I believe this image is what we would see if women were given permission to be “alpha” and work on an equal plane with the men in their lives.
Over the last couple decades, PEW research shows that women have made strides in the realm of leadership. As of 2014, 57 percent of women were in the labor force, compared to just 39 percent in 1965. Still, men dominate the labor force by 12 percent, and even more so in senior management positions, of which women hold a mere 22 percent. Despite the lack of senior management reported, these numbers are encouraging because they have been climbing for the last five decades. With women holding 60 percent of all master’s degrees in 2012, I am hopeful the trend will keep pointing up. To me, these numbers say that women are willing to work for leadership roles, but according to the same PEW research, women are often held back because our culture is simply not ready to hire or elect women leaders.
This is why we march. Though strides have been made, the work is not finished. PEW Social Trends reported, “According to the majority of Americans, women are every bit as capable of being good political leaders as men. Most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders.”
Women have been gifted with skills that lend to effective leadership. This research shows that women leaders are not detrimental to the projects they oversee, but that women can bring a different set of skills and perspectives to leadership than men can (men are higher in negotiation skills and risk taking). The combination of gifts that men and women bring to leadership can be a contrast that sharpens, if only we let it.
We persist. This persistence I have seen in the women who helped to raise me. I see it when I sit in my chapel seat and watch the floor around the altar flood with women who are willing to step forward and kneel down, despite the eyes watching. The last time Hughes filled in this way, though my perception was probably in some way affected by the unbalanced ratio of men and women on campus, I was struck that the majority of people who came forward were women. A week later, when I attended an orientation to begin volunteering with refugees, I was struck that of about 50 people there, only about 5 were men. Seemingly unnoticed, the women around me are stepping forward. Over and over again, I see women taking the ultimate leadership position by kneeling to their knees and offering to wash the feet of the suffering. Nevertheless, we persist.