How To Get Women Excited About Politics Again
Before the primaries finished in 2008, it seemed like there was a legitimate shot at getting a woman in the White House. Then 2010 was supposed to be the year of the woman, but sort of fizzled out. So how does 2012 look?
According to the Washington Post, it’s make or break time.
The next election year, 2012, could be pivotal in bringing new female faces into the political picture. With the reapportionment and redistricting following the 2010 census, we’re likely to see major shifts in both Congress and state legislatures as longtime incumbents retire, current lawmakers confront new constituencies and new seats are added in key states. (It’s no coincidence that the last giant increase in female candidates occurred in 1992, another post-census election.) At least eight of the 33Senate races in 2012 will feature open seats. And recent election cycles have shown us that the electorate is volatile and primed for change. Incumbency is no longer a near-guarantee of victory — and in some cases, it may even be a negative. These forces give newcomers an unparalleled opportunity to break into the system.
Emily’s List, Susan B. Anthony List, White House Project, She Should Run, Women’s Campaign Forum, so many groups are out there, actively looking to recruit and groom the next potential representative, senator, governor or even president. So why does it seem like we’re actually seeing less women in government the more groups we have out focusing on female candidates?
According to Patricia Russo, President of the Women’s Campaign School at Yale, it’s because we are too busy thinking about it, rather than just doing it.
The reasons more women do not run in great numbers are as varied as women themselves. One that we hear repeatedly is that women wait for “the right time”, or when they feel “best prepared”. We come to our political lives often very differently than men.
Men will wake up, hop in the shower, get dressed and while they are looking in the mirror, adjusting their tie, say: “I think I’ll run for the senate today.” Now, that may be a bit glib, but whenever I share that sentiment to an audience of political women, I receive many smiling, affirmative shaking heads. For women, it is a very different path. Sometimes, women over think their decisions. While it doesn’t occur often to men that they are not “ready” or “prepared”…women agonize over it.
Maybe the anecdote is true, but from talking to a variety of women, especially younger women, who have considered a political run, I run into the same explanation over and over — men seem allowed to jump in with both feet regardless of lack of experience, where as women seem to be told to wait in line and work their way up the ranks when it comes to building a political career.
It’s not unusual to see a man go straight for a statewide campaign, especially if he already has financial banking or can self finance, something much easier for a man than a woman since more high level executives are male. Whereas a female candidate is often encouraged to start out smaller — maybe city council or school board. Because women often enter political life later, after they no longer have young children to care for, that “wait your turn, work your way up” attitude can have her not running until much later than a male counterpart and the “baby steps” political moves make gaining access to higher level political jobs too slow.
Is it any wonder that women are beginning to lose interest in the political process all together, and not just as candidate? Politico reports that 2010 was not only the year that female political candidates petered out, but that politicians overall decided to ignore the needs of women voters as a whole. And that is reflected in the continued budget debates of 2011, where healthcare is being gouged, wages cut, family planning eliminated, education gutted, social security and medicaid possibly rolled back, and even cuts to WIC proposed.
We lose interest in the process and we lose our voice. We lose our voice and we lose our representation. We lose our representation and we become even more marginalized in the political process. It’s a cycle we have to break now, or we may never have a chance to again.