Women face obstacles en route to positions of power


EllieAna Hale

An attorney seemed stunned to see Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse walk into the boardroom for an upcoming meeting.

“Why are you so shocked?” she asked him.

“Last time I was here, there were no women in the room,” he said.

Silence followed his statement.

“No one stood up for me. Not one,” she said.

Cruse’s experience is not an uncommon one for women in power.

In Kansas’ history, there is a short record of women who have been elected to powerful political positions. 

Cruse is one of six women elected as a county commissioners in Sedgwick County history. The newest female addition is Sarah Lopez, who was named to the board on Nov. 16.

Sharice Davids, U.S representative from Kansas, is the first Native American, openly LGBTQ+ woman in the history of congress. She is also the first female Democrat to be elected from Kansas in over a decade.

In the state govern

EllieAna Hale

ment, there are 13 women holding senator positions and 34 representatives.

Gov. Laura Kelly is one of three women to become governor in the state of Kansas. 

Lavonta Williams is one of the few women and persons of color on the Wichita City Council and Board of Directors. 

Heather Bohaty is one of the three female superintendents in USD 260 history.

The push for more women in powerful areas is only beginning. Change in how women like Cruse are viewed starts with them.

Twenty-three percent of women — about four times more than men — report that they have been treated as incompetent due to their gender, according to a study done by social trends researcher Kim Parker and Science and Society researcher Cary Funk.

“I am constantly working 10 times harder to have my voice heard and oftentimes must repeat what I say,” said Cruse, who graduated from Wichita State.  

According to senior Taelyn Huntley, powerful women are often viewed by society as intimidating, scary and bossy. Or as President Donald Trump has referred to women with power — nasty, loser, dog, wench, aggressive, disgusting.

In other words, women are expected to be sweet, demure, beautiful, excellent in the kitchen and in the bedroom.

Trump, heading into the 2016 election against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton said, “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

It’s frustrating to be denigrated simply due to gender.

“Women in powerful positions have the ability to make change happen quickly and frequently,” sophomore Kira Alvey said. “Now this may be ‘threatening’ to some men or even other women due to the fact that we have been used to this certain way of operating for so long.”

Women are expected to be the secretary, not the CEO. The nurse, not the doctor. 

It can feel to women as though they’re walking through life with men’s feet on their necks.

“I see gender inequality every single day, and it won’t get better until people recognize its existence,” senior Rose Milligan said. “We are still fighting for rights because people fail to see its importance or even acknowledge the problem. They don’t value it in our society.”

Whether a woman is in the boardroom, locker room, courthouse or home, she is always expected to live up to society’s lofty standards.

“Women who are afraid to have their voices heard have oftentimes been belittled into thinking that their opinions don’t matter and that what they have to offer is only measured by how ‘beautiful’ they are,” Alvey said.

Huntley added: “Notice how there are constant laws or rules being made regarding women’s bodies and how they are supposed to be correctly used, but none for men. Women are expected to act (the way men want us to act) and if we at all diverge from it we are deemed problematic, (promiscuous) or selfish.”

Gender discrimination is worse for women of color.

Women of color face the largest workforce gaps including wages and representation in leadership positions,” according to a study by freelance journalist Annamarie Houlis.

While white women earn 81 cents for every dollar earned by white men, black women earn 61 cents and Latino women earn 53 cents.

So how can women climb higher? Reach their goals? Be in power?

It starts with representation.

Representation is important to give hope to the entire future of femininity. To teach the next generation how to live up to their own expectation of self.

“Little girls need someone to look up to and someone who will lead them in the right direction morally and powerfully,” senior Alivia Bolain said.

Milligan added: “We have gifts, we have talents and we are all different in many ways. However, we all experience different amounts of pain and suffering, but being able to share your story and encourage women to lift themselves and show them how you succeeded, or how you kept strong in times of abuse or times of gender discrimination is exactly what female representation is and is exactly what kind of role model a woman needs.”

Community activist Yolanda Marshall encourages others to amplify the voices of women of color.

“As a half Native, half black woman of color, other women could give us voices by listening to our stories,” Marshall wrote in an email. “Having more diverse friend circles, learning our history and discussing it, holding racists accountable and having those tough conversations with your family and friends. These are all ways to help fight against the struggles we face in America. Change is here, but the journey is just getting started.”

Think of all the girls in the U.S. who now see they, too, can be in the White House — all because of vice president-elect Kamala Harris, who is black and South Asian.

“We made history in America,” Marshall wrote. “A step toward the right direction. America chose change instead of hate. America chose a black woman as vice president. We are in the middle of history. We think back to when our ancestors couldn’t even vote, to now. Oh, how our ancestors are smiling down at the change we are creating for our future women rock stars”

So how can change occur?

Well, women can’t be silent. The voices of moms, aunts, grandmas, little girls must be get louder.

And women must work to get into positions of power. 

“I jokingly said after some cheap box wine that I was going to run for governor,” Cruse said. “Someone suggested a commissioner, and after doing a tiny bit of research, I discovered that there were only five women in the past 65 years that had ever been a county commissioner. So without even knowing what the role entailed, I decided to run because that was where a woman needed to be.”

It has been a slow process in the past 100 years since women first got the right to vote. Harris will be the 49th vice president — and the first woman.

“People, especially men who feel threatened by you, will try and keep you down,” Cruse said. “Find strength, knowing that being strong can look very different at times. Crying it out is strength. Venting to a friend is strength. 

“Getting back up time and time again after being knocked down is strength.”

Women like Cruse and Marshall are paving the way for other women. 

And that thrills Marshall for the future.

“You, my dear, are the future and the future is female,” Marshall said.