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Where Are All of the Women Politicians?

Where Are All of the Women Politicians?

Photo by Speaker Pelosi, Creative Commons

GOOD | Andrew Belonsky

June 17, 2010

There are dozens of organizations, networks, and PACs dedicated to training and electing female lawmakers. Republicans have groups like the Wish List and the National Federation of Republican Women, and Democrats have their own groups, such as EMILY’s List and Steele’s Emerge America.

Women who enroll will learn the same standard skills men would learn: How to speak concisely, lessons on community organization, and tips on messaging—but from an entirely different perspective. “We look at it through a gendered lens,” says Vilarde of the nonpartisan White House Project.

As Steele mentioned above, fundraising proves to be quite the foible for female politicians. In most circumstances, women are fantastic fundraisers; when it comes to asking for themselves, they buckle.

Women-centric groups like Vilarde’s help women reframe the debate: “We make an assessment of a woman’s relationship with money, lessons she learned as a child. We do role playing exercises where she makes an ask.” Of course money’s hardly the only hurdle women face when launching a campaign, and training groups tackle all the stock subjects.

Naturally family comes up. “The issue of family, kids, is big on the campaign trail,” explains Vilarde. Just look at all the questions surrounding Elena Kagan, and the stink over Sarah Palin’s ubiquitous brood. Women, unlike men, are asked to explain where, how, and why their children do or don’t exist. Apart from family, though, there’s another F-word female lawmakers routinely face: fashion.

Apart from Representative Charlie Rangel’s bowties, not many male lawmakers fuel sartorial stories the same way that Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have. “Women dress professionally in campaign ads, which suggests they need to prove themselves,” points out CAWP’s Kira Sanbonmatsu. Rarely do you see a woman with rolled up sleeves, her top button undone, walking down Main Street, as male candidates are wont to do. A woman needs to appear competent for the public, and her political party.

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