NOTE: The views expressed here belong to the individual contributors and not to Princeton University or the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Attention Women: RUN!

Christina Henderson, MPA

Back in the day when Michele Bachmann was leading in the Republican presidential primary (i.e., this summer), I was doubled over with grief at the idea that she could be first. Call me crazy, but I hope whoever achieves the honor of becoming the first woman to win the presidential nomination of major political party does not have to be convinced that the Founding Fathers did not in fact outlaw slavery.

Now that Bachmann’s star has fallen, I am concerned that neither political party has a deep enough bench to field a viable female candidate for president in the next three years. Currently, there are only six women serving as governors, 17 women in the United States Senate, and 72 in the House of Representatives. If we control for age, experience, name recognition, likability, alternative ambitions, and public displays of wackiness (yes, this is applies to male candidates too because wackiness knows no bounds), the numbers look even bleaker. We have got to get more women off the sidelines and into the field!

A 2009 study conducted by Stanford University and the University of Chicago found that on average, women in Congress introduce more legislation, attract more co-sponsors, and secure more resources for their districts and states than their male counterparts. In general, women in government are known to get things done and not take no for an answer. This is not to diminish the impact of men, but there are times when the fortitude and deep abiding commitment of women is stronger than that of said counterparts. And at this time in our nation’s history, it is needed.

In the last ten months, we’ve witnessed an unbelievable war on women across the country. From "forcible rape" to Planned Parenthood, from the assault on public employees (the majority of whom are female) to allowing hospitals to deny pregnant women life-saving care, can we please call off the vultures?! Now, I am not expecting every woman who decides to run for office to be progressive and pro-choice (it would be nice, but I’m realistic). However, when a city decides to decriminalize domestic violence over a budget dispute with its county counterparts, I would hope all the women could come together as a collective and say: “Are you serious?!”

We need more women running and serving in public office. Now, I would be remiss not to mention the difficulties involved in running for office. As a veteran campaign staffer, I know campaigns are not for the fainthearted. They are tough—physically, mentally, and spiritually. And for women—Democrat or Republican—it’s harder in ways men cannot even fathom. You will get frustrated, you may want to quit, and yes, it is possible that you may even lose your race. But know that hopefully because of your efforts the next time a woman runs, it will be a little easier that go around. When you are woman seeking to break political glass ceilings, the process is as much about you as the next five who follow. (Hillary to Bachmann: “You’re welcome.”) Don’t sit this opportunity out. Join the other incredible women in our nation’s history who have dared to define the role women play in politics on their own terms. Your country needs you.

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