This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Donna Martinez, associate editor of Carolina Journal.

In the last few weeks, women have regaled reporters with their excitement over the prospect of seeing a sister break through the ultimate glass ceiling — the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The election of a woman as leader of the free world would certainly be a historic milestone. I just wish women would acknowledge that the achievement — whenever it happens and by whom —will be more symbolic than consequential.

Just as it was with the much-trumpeted historic election of Nancy Pelosi as the first female Speaker of the House — she was going to remake the country through her more caring female vision — breaking the presidential gender barrier represents the success of one woman in particular, not all women in general. Pelosi’s “firsts” quickly dried up, and media quickly moved on, demonstrating this reality: Domestic and international problems are no easier solved by a woman than by a man.

I don’t need to see a woman elected president to be proud of my gender, or to believe we’re fully respected members of society. I take note of long-term impact and results, and by my standard, women have already broken the barriers that really matter. Just look to the marketplace, where cash is king.

For years the private sector has catered to women and acknowledged our huge purchasing power well beyond traditionally female products such as cosmetics and clothing. Volvo acknowledged the influence of women when it assigned female employees to design a car. The year it debuted, 2004, women were expected to make the decision or have a say in eight of 10 U.S. vehicle purchases. Gun makers have also geared up for the growing number of women who buy firearms. This piece estimated the 2006 impact of women on the sales of firearms, ammunition, and hunting items at $420 million.

Then there’s Taser International’s approach to tapping the influence of women. The company has taken a safety product initially geared to law enforcement and designed a version to boost the safety and confidence of women. Taser’s C2 personal protector device is a stun gun a woman can truly appreciate — it fits in a purse, comes in multiple colors including pink, and can prevent the nightmare of a struggle with a bigger, stronger attacker.
Even better, the product has become an entrepreneurial opportunity for women.

This story tells of Dana Shafman, a young, single woman who’s helping generate a wave of in-home sales to ladies looking for an alternative to a handgun or keeping a knife or baseball bat near the bed. Thanks to her ingenuity at marketing the stun gun, Shafman has created a business for herself. As the headline describes her vision: “Forget Tupperware: Taser Parties Are the New Craze.”
The influence that comes with buying power will only grow as women become better educated than men.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) projects that during the 2007-2008 school year, women will earn six of 10 bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees. In just five years, women will likely overtake men in the number of doctoral degrees earned. Ask a medical or law school student and they’ll tell you their class consists of more women than men. If the trend continues, women will dominate hospitals and courtrooms in just a few years.

Other women are setting the standard for excellence in the nonprofit sector. Gail Mills co-founded the Durham Rescue Mission with her husband, Ernie, more than 30 years ago. Their organization provides life-saving services and skills to the desperate, the lost, and the down-and-out. They accomplish their work without government funding and rely on private donations. According to A Step of Faith, which chronicles the mission’s history, Gail and Ernie once returned a $10,000 government grant secured by an elected official without their knowledge. Of the mission’s impact on her life, 2006 graduate Carla Andrews writes: “My children can look at me and no longer be ashamed.”

Now that’s a barrier broken.