Cook: Would Meryl Streep move here?

Cook: Would Meryl Streep move here?

January 26th, 2012 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

Meryl Streep, an actress so engaging she could play a London statue and still win awards, received an Oscar nomination earlier this week for her portrayal of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the film "The Iron Lady."

Thatcher's role within global politics had an influence on the way women were seen in traditionally male spheres of power. Thatcher didn't tear down the Gender Berlin Wall, but she did put her high-heeled foot through it.

It makes me wonder about the state of women in power in the Scenic City.

Let's take a quick tour.

The mayor of Chattanooga and the Hamilton County mayor. Both men.

The Chattanooga police chief and Hamilton County sheriff. The Chattanooga and Hamilton County fire chiefs. All men.

The Hamilton County school superintendent. Seven out of nine members of the Hamilton County school board. Every member of the Hamilton County Commission.

All men.

Our state representatives from six local districts are men.

Of the 12 state senators representing East Tennessee, only one is a woman -- Sen. Becky Duncan Massey from Knoxville.

Tennessee's two U.S. senators. The congressman from Chattanooga. The governor. The deputy governor (who used to be our county mayor).

None are women.

I counted more than 550 churches listed in our city phone book. I would wager a case of Earl Grey tea that the vast majority of those are run by men.

Of the top 25 highest salaries within Chattanooga government, only seven are being paid to women.

Of the top 25 highest salaries within Hamilton County government and supported agencies, only four are being paid to women.

Of 21 middle schools in Hamilton County, by my count, only five have female principals.

Of 17 high schools in Hamilton County, by my count, only four have female principals.

Of seven area private elementary and high schools, there are no female heads, except for St. Peter's Episcopal Elementary School.

Our city's university and community college are both run by men. So are the majority of the largest employers -- manufacturing and nonmanufacturing -- in our city.

Out of this entire list, I found only one area where a great majority of people in power were women. Out of 46 Hamilton County elementary schools, more than 30 are run by female principals.

The next best? Chattanooga City Council. Four of nine members are female.

Taking a wide view like this shows how unbalanced the scale of power is in our city.

In 2010, there were more women (51 percent) living in Hamilton County than men, according to the U.S. census. So from a purely proportional perspective, this unbalance is inaccurate. Grossly.

Yet there is a deeper message.

The young women growing up in Chattanooga ought to be able to picture a female police chief in Hamilton County. Or a female governor. Or Mrs. Mayor.

Or even Miss Mayor.

Yes, I know that power takes many forms and doesn't have to come through making money, winning elections or running companies. And Thatcher, by feminist standards, is not exactly an icon.

Yet when I think about my own daughter -- or all of the young women in our city -- I want a reality where gender is not a hindrance, direct or implied.

Nor do I want my son -- or any male in Chattanooga -- to automatically assume authority simply because he's a dude.

Fairness. Equal opportunity. Gender parity.

Anything else, as they say in England, is rubbish. Or bollocks.

David Cook can be reached at