Friday, March 19, 2004

'Lips' finally puts a chick in White House



By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Click here to e-mail Maggie Downs
In the long hallway that led to the gym, my elementary school had a Walk of Presidents. The glossy blue walls were lined with the portraits of every commander in chief, ending with Reagan.

It was meant to be stately, attractive and inspirational. But for me, it was distressing - even with my mad crush on Martin Van Buren.

None of the presidents looked like me.

That is, none of them were girls.

More than 20 years have passed. In that time, just one woman has been on a major political party ticket for the White House - Geraldine Ferraro, when she was a Democratic vice-presidential candidate. In 1984.

Altogether, in 228 years more than half the U.S. population has yet to be represented by one of their own.

Come on. What will it take to get a chick in the Oval Office?

To find out, I asked the experts at the Know Theatre Tribe, which is putting on the political satire Lips today and Saturday at 1425 Sycamore St., downtown. (For more information: www.knowtheatre.com)

First off, they said, a woman needs a presidential appearance.

For Lips, the crew had to transform Mary Ann Smith, a 56-year-old Delhi resident, into Joni, the first female president of the U.S.

They clothe Joni in power colors, like red and blue. Her suits have no signs of softness or femininity.

"With a man, his virility and attractiveness is important to his power," said director Christine DeFrancesco. "But with a woman, you have to take away her sexuality."

Next, a woman needs attitude.

DeFrancesco worked with Smith, teaching her to speak without any signs of meekness.

"A female politician needs confidence. She can't ask for permission or show any signs of weakness," DeFrancesco said. "As women, I think that's the hardest thing for us."

Someone should pave the way for a female candidate, speculated Matthew Pyle, 31, an assistant to President Joni.

"The way our culture works is that we have to have a black president before we have a woman president," he said.

It'll also help to have women already poised to take on a presidential campaign. Fourteen women are currently in the Senate, 62 in the House. Eight women are governors.

"We're making more strides every day," Smith said.

Most importantly, you have to change a few attitudes.

"Men still have an issue with seeing women as authority figures," DeFrancesco said.

Political experts agree with many of the Know Theatre's guesses.

"There's still this attitude that men should govern and women should be governed," said Larry Sabato, founder and director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "America changes very slowly. We have a culture that on the one hand encourages rapid technological change, but on the other hand looks for stability in cultural mores - and this is one of them."

John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics in Akron guesses it won't be long before elementary-school girls will see themselves reflected in the Walk of Presidents.

"It'll take an extraordinary level of prominence," he said, mentioning Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole, females who have been seriously considered for the role.

"People may be willing to take a chance with a relatively untested man, but women really have to show they can do the job. But I think it'll happen."

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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