Oklahoma: Leadership in No-Woman's Land
Created from tracts of Indian land and the panhandle strip once known as "No-Man's Land," Oklahoma has been described as a "state of competing images" that reflect contradictory but defining trends of traditionalism and transition. 1 In gender politics, the conflict between traditionalism and transition also seems apt: Women are more prominent today in state politics than in days past, yet the state's long heritage of social conservatism remains an impediment. In contemporary politics, leadership in the Oklahoma Legislature is "no-woman's land."
In the 1990s, women have run successfully as statewide candidates, but at the state legislative level, progress has been slow. Oklahoma ranks forty-eighth among the states in terms of percentage of women lawmakers. Legislating has been traditionally and historically men's work.
Looking out over the Oklahoma House of Representatives from the visitor's gallery, one is struck by the absence of women. A few female clerks sit on the raised dais where the Speaker grips the gavel. Fresh-faced teenage girls serving as pages wait attentively at the front desk to be called for some errand. But in the 101 seats on the floor of the House only nine women are seen among the suits and cowboy boots. In the House committee rooms in 1997, only six of the twenty-seven committees have more than two women members, and eight committees have no female members. Only two standing committees are chaired by women, and two other women chair the standing subcommittees of the Education Committee. Only three women sit on the forty-member Appropriations and Budget Committee.
The Senate is not very much different. Six of the forty-eight members' desks are occupied by women, and on the nineteen standing committees there