Commentary: Can a woman do anything a man can do?
Pamela Lewis, who lived in New York City and has taught high school and middle school French for 30 years, has just been named America's Greatest Thinker. You may have read about this. The Cultural Center of New York Mills, Minnesota has sponsored the Great American Think-Off for 25 years. The Cultural Center considers itself a rural center for creativity, community vitality and lifelong learning of the arts. Each year, the Think-Off conducts a debate on an important question, requests essays, then selects a final four for debate in New York Mills with the winner determined by a vote of about 250 people attending. The question considered this year was "Has the 2016 election changed our perception of the truth?" I've never attended the Think-Off, but often wished that I had.
Now the Cultural Center must consider a question for next year's debate. I have a suggestion — if they haven't used this before. I'll get to it in just a minute. America has never elected a woman president although we came close in November. Nevertheless, every year we have more and more women selected to head our largest and most powerful companies. To name just a few, Mary Barta is the CEO of General Motors, Meg Whitman heads Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Virginia Rometty sits at the top of IBM, Phebe Novakovic is the chief at General Dynamics and Denise Morrison stirs the pot at Campbell Soup. All are Fortune 500 companies. But only 32 out of 500 are women.
In addition, 15 of the top 50 universities in this country have female presidents, including Shirley Ann Jackson, the highest paid college president in the country of either gender with a salary of over $7 million a year at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in New York, and the presidents of Harvard, Brown, Michigan State, University of Massachusetts and the University of Washington are all females. But why just 15 of 50?
So the question for next year's think-off is this: Can a woman do anything a man can do? I recently read a column by a woman who praised her father on Father's Day because he had set her up for success by encouraging her to believe she could do anything she made up her mind to do. She has a daughter, Annika, age 7, of the same attitude. She overhead Annika telling her older sister "Girls can do anything boys can do. Except pee standing up. I know because I tried it. It doesn't work."
How can a great thinker argue against equal ability by woman? Well, in addition to their non-standing limitations, women can't be sperm donors either. But to get to serious issues, why is it that only 21 percent of the members of the U.S. Senate (21 of 100) are women? And, over in the U.S. House of Representatives, the female count is only 19.1 percent (83 out of 435). If they're equal in ability, why aren't more in office?
The arguments against equal ability by women are old and losing steam. But they will be made with great vigor: men are taller, stronger, can run faster, are better ball players, have louder voices, are less emotional and more comfortable being in charge.
Equal ability? Women are now 47.6 percent of medical graduates, while legal graduates are about 50/50, and dental schools, 46.9 percent are women. Astronauts? Out of 567 space travelers, 60 (10.6 percent) have been women. Today 78 percent of veterinary school seats are filled by women, and in the practicing world of veterinary medicine, 43,996 are men and 86,857 are women.
There are some topics that great thinkers try to avoid debating because they create more heat than light: politics, religion and race. It could be that equality of the genders is one of them. But if the subject is debated in 2016 at the Great American Think-Off, you can count on a lively discussion. And if 250 people gather to listen (125 men, 125 women) you can also count on the line at the women's bathroom to be much longer than the men's. Some things will never be equal.