By Brandi Makuski
Two of the city’s new alders say local government needs a few more good women.
That’s a solid argument; one that long-predates former First Lady Abigail Adams’ frequent complaints to her husband John about the for-men-only club which ruled the country during her lifetime.
But this argument needs context; women are no longer arbitrarily excluded from involvement based solely on a policy- written or otherwise- of gender bias. Women today can vote and own property. Women have run for every elected office in the nation. Women are no longer chained by social convention to homemaking and child-rearing.
While some can argue a return to emphasis on homemaking and child-rearing is long overdue, there’s nothing preventing any woman from getting jobs historically held by men. There’s also no reason to demand any job be given to a woman just because of her anatomy.
Alderwomen Mary McComb (District 9) and Mary Kneebone (District 7) both were victorious over male opponents in April’s election. Being elected means they were, at the very least, more popular among voters than their male counterparts for any number of reasons- one of which very well could be gender.
At the August Common Council meeting, both voted against approving a mayoral appointment to the city’s Police & Fire Commission because the candidate wasn’t a woman. That candidate is former Alderman Jerry Moore: a middle-aged man who until recently held the distinction of serving in the District 11 aldermanic spot for a whopping 14 years before he decided to not seek reelection.
The two alderwomen mirrored each other’s sentiments publicly, both saying they were upset by the lack of diversity on the Commission. Their words were short and- at face value- unoffensive, but smacked of a fundamentalist belief in observant political correctness which can only hinder progress in city government.
Their dissenting votes admittedly had nothing to do with Moore’s experience or character, but rather his anatomy.
Mary Kneebone: “With all due respect, I’m a little disappointed that a qualified woman was not put on a panel with no women. In the spirit of diversity and facing hiring a new police chief, I’m a little disappointed. But this has nothing to do with Mr. Moore’s qualifications, just…I’d primarily vote for diversity.”
Mary McComb: “I’m curious when there might be another opening on that Commission because I’m very disturbed about the lack of diversity.”
Two women did apply for the Commission’s open seat, as did six men. Moore was chosen because- as Mayor Mike Wiza put it- he was “the most qualified” of the lot. The Commission, he explained, was comprised of five voting members, two of whom were very new. Moore’s experience- which includes more consecutive years on the City Council than anyone else in recent years- would best help the Commission steer through the quagmire of several pending issues.
Women have served on the Commission in the past, and the city also has female police officers. A woman currently holds- for the second consecutive term- the position of Portage County Executive. Many women serve on the County Board and City Council, and until recently Tracey Kujawa- a woman- was the city’s fire chief until she got a better job offer in Wausau.
But, rather than publicly support the appointment of a public servant with experience no one else can presently match, McComb and Kneebone took a stance of opposition with no other purpose than to make a point.
Inclusion for inclusion’s sake is the opposite of diversity, presenting a forum where lower standards in experience, qualification and education become acceptable.
Should McComb and Kneebone want greater female involvement in local government, it could prove a daunting task. Key in seeking local office is a genuine desire to serve. Male or female- either you’ve got it or you don’t.