What Kind of Women Go Into Politics?

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the lack of change that has happened for women over the past 20-30 years.  After the ERA failed to be ratified the women’s movement slowed, and in some aspects ground to a halt.  Had we been pushing with the same degree of force as the previous 20 years we could be looking at a different landscape today.
Sunday morning I picked up the Washington Post and immediately flipped to the Style Section after seeing the heading on the front page: Finding Madame President.  Ignoring the fact that women’s issues seem often find their way to the Style section, I read the interesting, and slightly sad article.  Debbie Walsh and Kathy Kleeman look at the lack of potential female candidates over the next few national election cycles, and give some obvious suggestions for future VP and Presidential candidates, including Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords and Kirsten Gillibrand.  The fact remains, as they point out, there are not enough women running for office, any office.  What is keeping women from stepping up to the plate?

The scrutiny over clothing and hairdos, how women continue to manage a household, who cares for the children, and if they don’t have any why, are all enough to keep many women from throwing their hat in the ring.  Conservative women, who would normally have supported Sarah Palin, backed away in 2008 because they questioned her running for office while raising a baby with special needs.  Hillary Clinton often got more attention during her presidential campaign for her clothes and hairstyles than for her policy ideas.  After all the time spent discussing inane details of the lives of female candidates, what woman would decide that was for her?

Certainly giving up some privacies is a big tradeoff.  But there are organizations who dedicate time preparing women to run.  I admit to getting a little inbox fatigue from EMILY’s List and Women’s Campaign Forum.  But these women who are willing to run for office need the help of other women.  Female candidates, more often than not,  have a more difficult time raising money.  I am committed to donate to more female candidates in the 2012 cycle, because it is the only way to see more women participate and win.  The more women get involved in local and state politics, the more women will get involved in national politics.

As the article in the Post points out, women bring distinct life experiences to public office, and change policy agendas and the governing process.  After these last few months of the “War on Women” it is now more important than ever that women are represented well in local, state and national offices.  Would legislation targeting women’s health continue coming up if more women were in each state house?  Legislation would certainly be received differently.  Who knows what the outcome could have been.

As I’ve been reading about the women’s movement in the 1980s and 1990s I saw more places were women made firsts, in military combat and military academies, in business, the rate at which women attend and graduate from law and medical school.  But there is a clear gap in several professions, politics being one of them.  Why do we shy away from politics in general?  I know many young women who don’t really pay attention to politians unless it is an election year, yet there are issues that directly impact them that come up every day in state houses and the US Congress.

It is time to pay attention, talk to the women around you, and ask questions.  We make up more than half of the electorate – it is time we start taking an active role in the debate and policy creation.  Learn about the women running for office in your area, and the women who hold office now.  You may be surprised to learn their backgrounds may not be that different from yours.
Originally appeared on Fem2.0


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