By Jocelyn Cook, Contributing Writer
PHOENIX, NY – It isn’t uncommon today to see men and women in elected and appointed positions.
But, only a few generations ago, seeing women in office was unheard. Women werenâ€™t even allowed the right to vote in America.
All that changed this week in 1920, with the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave all women the right to vote.
Now, women in politics are more accepted than ever before.
From school board members to legislators, all the way up the political ladder to former senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (currently Secretary of State), it’s not such a strange thing to see a woman in office anymore.
What is the experience of holding public office like for these women, and the men who work alongside them?
Oswego County Legislator Louella Leclair, District 25, Fulton, explained she got into politics after launching â€œa grassroots campaignâ€ for election.
â€œI always was interested in politics and followed the news regularly,â€ she said. â€œThe county legislature was severely divided at that time. I was unhappy that the people’s work wasnâ€™t getting done.â€
Leclair has no complaints about what she does.
â€œI absolutely love my job. When you really enjoy what you do, it is not a job. I enjoy people, I have always been a â€˜people person.â€™ I like talking about issues facing the county to the people of the district,â€ she said.
Her one regret about her political career? â€œI only wish I had gotten into politics years ago,â€ she said.
One elected official thatâ€™s been involved in her community for years is Diana Cook, of the Phoenix Board of Education.
For her, the decision to run for the board wasnâ€™t hard to make.
â€œIn some ways it was a natural progression, having served on boards for nursery school, PTAs, booster clubs,â€ she explained. â€œBut the decision was actually made to run because someone – a respected male in school administration – encouraged me, pointing out that I had great qualities that would make me an effective board member and a wonderful advocate for kids and community.â€
Also, she said, â€œHe did tell me, ‘They need a woman on the board.’â€
We all hear the stories of the â€œglass ceilingâ€ for women, situations in some careers in which women cannot advance beyond a certain level.
â€œThe next generation of women probably wonâ€™t see the â€˜glass ceiling,â€™â€ Leclair said. â€œI also believe women in recent years have proven their worth on all levels.â€
Cook agrees, to some extent.
â€œThere is a tendency, in my experience, for men to discount, at least initially, the opinion of women in business or politics,â€ she said. â€œI do believe women have to work harder and prove their abilities more so in the political and business arena. But I also believe that is improving.â€
Tony Fratto, mayor of Phoenix, has worked with several women in his political career.
â€œSince becoming mayor, I have had two females who have served as trustees on the village board,â€ he said. â€œBoth have proven themselves to be valuable assets to the community and good people to work with in a government setting.â€
He added, â€œOne I named as my deputy mayor for a while.â€
Fratto doesn’t believe there should ever be a difference in the level of respect for women in politics as compared to their male peers.
â€œI personally believe women can serve in politics at every level just as their male counterparts,â€ he said.
As far as the idea there are male issues vs. female issues to pursue in politics, Fratto said, â€œThere should never be a line in the sand trying to determine what woman politicians need to pursue and what men politicians should pursue.â€
Fratto is very aware of the anniversary of the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment, having grown up near Seneca Falls, location of the Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights in July 1848.
â€œIâ€™m very open minded about many things, but to think there was a time in our country that we denied citizens the right to vote based on sex (mainly women) is a time I am glad I wasn’t around,â€ he said. â€œWe all deserve the right to vote. I can’t even begin to make comment on how this has impacted the political environment of our nation, because I have never lived my life without everyone having the right to vote.â€
As a woman in politics, Leclair has never felt discriminated against, as women before 1920 who fought for suffrage might have.
â€œI was accepted by my colleagues as a legislator,â€ she said. â€œI have never felt that being a woman had any adverse effect.â€
Cook’s experience has also been positive overall as well.
â€œI have a chance to exercise things I enjoy; listening, asking questions, helping people to see the other perspective, evaluating and negotiating a positive outcome,â€ she said. â€œI also feel strongly the responsibility of ‘representation.’â€
Leclair believes it is very important for both men and women to be present in politics.
â€œMen and women working together can find common ground and achieve a better outcome when they listen to one another,â€ she said. â€œIt really boils down to having respect for each otherâ€™s opinion.â€
According to many today, the importance of all citizens being not only allowed to vote but actually taking part in the process, informing themselves of the issues and exercising their rights in turn, is apparent.
Women in politics go one step further than just exercising their right to vote and to be in office. They also take on the responsibility of representing everyone with that right.
(Editorâ€™s Note: Diana Cook is Ms. Cookâ€™s mother.)