In Sarah Hepola's "Gloria Steinem, a Woman Like No Other," published on March 16 by the New York Times, there was a quote from Ms. Steinem regarding my mother, Geraldine Ferraro: “What has the women’s movement learned from Geraldine Ferraro’s candidacy for vice president? Never get married.” -- The literal implication is that women, if they want equality should never get married.
Leaders receive their personality traits, like all other people, from those around them. Geraldine Ferraro became who she was as a result of her relationships. Her early life was shaped by the nuns and Jesuits at Marymount and Fordham. From her mother she received her conviction of character and the love of family.
My mother would often mention that she would not have achieved her professional accomplishments without my father by her side for over 56 years. Without my father she would not have thought of going to law school or been able to afford to do so. She would have been unable to find employment after law school. She recalled that law firm after law firm told her they were not hiring women and in fact, a legal offer was rescinded after they found out she was planning to have a family.
She would have been unable to run for Congress since she needed a co-signer on the office lease, bank account and loan application. Once elected, she was able to pursue her professional goals due to my father taking over parental responsibilities during the week.
I mention the above to illustrate the point that women, like men, need support to achieve their aspirations. That despite the gains women have made there still is a long way to go before my two young girls experience my mother’s dream of gender equality. That day will only come when women have a seat at the table to shape the public debate.
The 111th congress has 17 women senators and 73 members of the House of Representatives. That 17% does not reflect proportional representation; however it is progress from the 99th congress of 1985, which had 23 female members in Congress and two female Senators. Women’s representation in the government sector is significantly better than the business sector which of the Fortune 500 companies there are only 12 female CEOs. Women make up only 15% of top companies’ boards and only 20% of non-profit companies are run by women.
Ms. Hepola mentions that the next voice of the women’s movement has not emerged. I would argue that the next generation of women movement leaders have emerged, just that they are shaping the debate differently.
Notable women leaders who are shaping the debate and defining the role of women are First Lady Michelle Obama, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, “Today” co-anchor Ann Curry and actress/activist Angelina Jolie to name a few. All are successful women who have found a balance between professional, and family life. All are active in their communities and in the global debate focusing on social issues.
Women’s leadership is not the issue for the women’s movement to achieve gender equality, it is men’s leadership.
Gender discrimination and inequality will not end until men stand alongside women to call for change. It is now incumbent upon fathers to pick up the baton and carry it over the finish line for their daughters.
I recently watched President Obama attend an NCCA men’s basketball game and fill out his bracket card. Not to pick on the president, whom I support, but I would have loved to have seen him do the same for the NCAA women’s bracket. Had he filled out a women’s bracket card and attended a women’s basketball game the message of equality to all women’s athletes and women’s groups would have been monumental.
Until all our leaders in government and industry take gender out of the equation we will never truly judge an individual on the content of their character. Until that day we will never complete the journey that Ms. Steinem, my mother, and so many others sacrificed so much for.
John Zaccaro Jr. is the son of former Democratic vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro.