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Women as leaders

03/20/07 12:00AM By Ruth Page
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(HOST) Inspired this week by VPR's series of stories about the contribution of Vermont women to our history and heritage, commentator Ruth Page is wondering what challenges they may face in the future.

(PAGE) Sigmund Freud wondered why he often found women "hysterical," as he dubbed their unhappiness. He blamed all problems on sex. But I think it's pretty likely that these women were suffering from sheer frustration. Until well into the 20th century, women couldn't vote for the leaders all citizens had to follow. For centuries, they were considered inferior to men not only in muscle-power but in brain power. In 19th century England, well-to-do women spent the morning discussing meals with the cook, clothes with their maids, and servant-problems with the housekeeper. They spent the afternoon in tea and conversation with other women. They did very little for themselves, and many were bored to tears.

I'm surprised they weren't ALL hysterical. When Beatrix Potter, clearly a scientist at heart, was not recognized for her knowledge of nature's plants and animals, she wrote children's books; her illustrations show the accuracy of her knowledge.

The first woman world-famous for her work in science was Marie Curie, who made such phenomenal discoveries about radium, the world was forced to acknowledge her. So in the 20th century, women began to come to the fore. They even attained the vote! -- In this country, in 1920. It was a woman, Rosalind Franklin, who first suggested the double helix of DNA for which Watson and Crick attained fame.

Now we have some power. We don't just vote -- we hold offices. Folks are still expressing surprise at having a female Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, actually next in line for the Presidency if anything should happen to George Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. That's a first for the U.S.

Rachel Carson really sparked the environmental movement with her Silent Spring book in 1962.

Today, women are prominent in all the environmental organizations. Frances Beinecke is the President of the National Resources Defense Council, one of the most respected environmental organizations in the country, both for its work in protecting animals, plants and habitats, and for spending its income wisely.

In a recent newsletter, she points out that, after thousands of human generations, ours is the first to grapple with planet-wide environmental problems: in the atmosphere, in our salt and fresh waters, in our soils, forests, and deserts.

It's a good thing that our concept of leadership has expanded to include women as well as men. Considering the enormous challenges ahead, we're going to need all the leaders we can get.

Ruth Page has been following environmental issues for twenty years. She is a long time Vermont resident and currently lives in Shelburne.

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