by Nikki van hiqhiowER
Nine-Five: A Victory for Apathy
It seems that everyone is now claiming
victory with the approval of the 9-5
City Council election plan. Those in favor
of single-member council districts claim
to have defeated their at-large opponents,
even though most leaders of the single-
member district groups opposed this
particular plan. Opponents of the single-
member district plan are also patting
themselves on the back because the 9-5
plan allowed for the least change that
the U.S. Justice Department would
tolerate and thus provided the best possibilities for keeping the present power
system in tact.
I believe that both sides were the losers
and apathy was the winner. Only 11.3
percent of eligible voters bothered to take
the five or so minutes necessary to express their opinion on how they would
be represented in their city. It is interesting to speculate on what statement the
other 88.7 percent of eligible voters have
made by their non-participation. "It
won't affect my life one way or the
other?" "It was too confusing?" "Politics is rotten and I don't want to get
involved in it?"
Clearly there is a tremendous credibility
gap between the political leaders and
followers in the Houston community.
There is some question whether the term
"followers" is an appropriate one here,
for the majority of the political constituents do not appear to be following
anyone. Given the time, money, and
energy spent on it, the single-member district issue was a very important one for
the community leaders. However, they
alone seemed to appreciate the importance of how the pie is to be
divided up through election districts.
Ironically, the lowest turnouts were in
the city's minority precincts. Minority
leaders were billing this election as a
vote on whether or not they should have
a greater piece of the decision making pie.
Sadly, it seems that their constituents
were not convinced that the division, one
way or the other, would make much difference in their lives.
Voter turnout in the white middle and
upper-middle-class precincts suggests that
although concern for the outcome of the
election was not great by any means, their
sense of the relevance of the election on
their lives was greater than in the minority areas.
The participation in this election
reminds me of an article I read recently
on the stress associated with life in
Houston. Houston is described by Jerry
Lester of Baylor University as a place
where one comes to make a fortune only
to be able to go where one really wants
to live. The author compares Houston to
the inside of an airplane-"you tolerate it
until you get where you want to go and
then you get off."
I'm not sure that Lester was too far
wrong in his assessment, but I would
extend his classification of Houstonians.
There are those who are here to make
their fortune and then to move on to
some place where people care about the
quality of the life of their citizens. This
group holds a great deal of power and
influence in Houston. There are those
who hold little power and influence and
who feel that change is hopeless. Then
there is a small group of people who truly
wish to make Houston their home and are
willing to make an investment in
the money making schemes. These
people retain the optimism that through
conscientious hard work and community
involvement Houston will be a politically
progressive city. Unfortunately, as the
voter turnout on the single-member district plan indicated, these people are a
distinct minority-apathy wins again.
Feminism is for Men
I lost a friend a few weeks ago. His loss
affected me deeply. Perhaps I could see
the possibility of what happened to him
happening to many other men of my
Michael killed himself. The circumstances around the suicide are not too
clear, for he tended to keep his personal
problems to himself. He worked for a
large corporation which transferred him
and his family to Houston several years
ago. Michael worked for them for many
years and, I am told, he closely linked
his identity with his employment there.
A few weeks before he took his life
he was told that he was being dismissed.
The resulting identity crisis was apparently
too much for him to bear. He purchased
a pistol, stopped at one of the retail
outlets of the company, and shot himself in the head. I suppose this was his
way of forcing this impersonal corporation
to recognize his pain.
So far, women have been the direct
beneficiaries of the women's movement.
Within it and as the result of it women
have grown, blossomed, shed old-identities and developed new ones. The
changes have taken place not without
pain but at least with the hope that
wherever we were going with our lives,
things would be better. Women are on
the move, there is no doubt about it. Even
the most insensitive males are feeling the
impact, or perhaps I should say discomfort of it. The spirit of liberation, however one might wish to label it, has definitely caught on with women.
But what about men? It is my opinion
that in relation to women, they have
virtually been standing still. The question is, why? Do men really have it so
good that change in the direction of
equality would be detrimental to the
quality of their lives? Or is it that women
have discouraged men's involvement
in the movement. I contend that the answers to both questions are no.
Men experience considerable discomfort from their roles in life. Some suffer
so much that they, like Michael, end it.
When I discuss the women's movement with men a common response is
that they (men) don't have it so good
either. They have heavy responsibilities and expectations that they must live
up to. And, they go on to tell me, they
don't go around griping and complaining like women are doing these days.
When I suggest (as I always do) that they
might be better off doing a little griping
and complaining I usually receive a blank
stare indicating that they have not yet
conceived of the possibilities of either a
real partner relationship with their spouse
or periodic role switching.
Being a man still seems to equal being
a provider. It follows that giving up being
a provider means giving up being a man.
Being a man and being a provider means
having control. Not maintaining control
or allowing oneself to be dependent is
feminine. Most men will quickly admit
that their roles in life leave much to be
desired, but nevertheless, they still cling
tenaciously to them. Their roles, their
jobs, mean, high status, relatively speaking their control equals their manhood.
Few people voluntarily abandon higher
for lower status. The trip in between is
usually defined as failure.
Men have a great deal to learn from
feminism. Breaking down the role barriers
is the key to unlocking their prison
doors - prisons that they refuse to acknowledge exist. If my friend Michael
had internalized feminism no corporation could have penetrated his sense of
personhood/manhood. He, like many
other men, bought into a self-destructive
The Continuing Textbook Battle
Once again the yearly exercise to rid the
sexist content from our children's textbooks is going on in Austin, led by the
National Organization for Women and
coordinated by Twiss Butler of Bay Area-
NOW. The Commissioner of Education,
the State Textbook Committee and textbook authors and publishers have all
heard the arguments seven years in a row,
yet it seems they are still not quite convinced that the content of textbooks
really has much to do with the attitudes,
opinions and self-perceptions that our
youngsters acquire and take with them
as adults. Worse, they may be fully aware
of the impact of those books on children's attitudes.
My own awareness about the image of
women in textbooks took place somewhere around 1972. I was working on
my doctorate at New York University
and began to research a dissertation
topic. An active women's movement
in the New York area stimulated my
interest in the topic of women in government.
I soon realized, however, that I knew
absolutely nothing about the subject of
women in politics and government.
Then, I asked myself why I knew nothing
about it and from that question, a new
sense of reality hit me. I had come
through grade school, high school and the
universities, earning bachelor's, a master's
and almost a Ph.D. degree without ever
hearing one lecture or reading more than
a line or two of what was just as likely
to be misinformation about women in
government and politics.
Now I was about to go out and join
the ranks of teachers and perpetuate
the same level of ignorance. At that time
I doubt that I could have named five
women who had done anything of consequence in the field of government or
pohtics. Nor could I offer any explanation for women's apparent lack of activity
in governing our own society.
My research focused ultimately upon
the political socialization of women.
And how are women socialized through
our textbooks? Politics has been identified as a male domain, and man has been
identified as "the political animal."
Political scientists and textbook authors
have been content to categorize women
as apolitical and have overlooked the
crucial connection between education
Typically, researchers have found that
in government textbooks 1) women are
largely omitted from the books used in
junior and senior high schools; there
are almost no women quoted; the great
majority of illustrations show males only
or men superior in status or numbers
over women. Women are rarely used in
case histories or examples. 2) There is
ubiquitous use of masculine terminology
(man/men, he/him, the man in the street,
Mr. Average Citizen and Uncle Sam), and
3) there is no acknowledgement or discussion of the rules and practices that
have kept women from leadership positions and in supportive and subordinate
roles; there is completely inadequate
coverage of the Nineteenth Amendment
and the struggle for women's suffrage,
with no mention of the heroes and
leaders of the movement; there is little
or misleading information of the current feminist movement-a political
movement of profound importance to the
high school girls who will be tomorrow's
Given this training, or socialization, it
is small wonder that women, constituting 51.3% of the population are represented by only one U.S. Senator, two
state governors, four percent of the
House of Representatives and no one on
the Supreme Court.
We are all the losers from this tacit
political screening process. There are
brilliant and caring young women in this
country whose adult leadership we desperately need.
Dr. Nikki Van Hightower is the executive
director of the Houston Area Women's