As the mid-term elections approach, our thoughts turn to that heady, idealistic, intellectually challenging, patriotic, serious subject that is politics. Not so much, you say? We tend to agree. Politics, its accompanying media coverage and dumbed down dialogue seems to have hit rock bottom. And yet, new, young, political ingénues appear on the ballot with regular frequency. This is heartening. It has often been said that decisions are made by those who show up. New political candidates are showing up but where are the women candidates?
Leave aside, if you are able, the ideological divide between blue and red, left and right, donkeys and elephants (not sure how political views took a trip to the zoo – wait). Studies have shown that when elected to office, women perform just as well as men (a low bar, to be sure, but still). If you don’t believe me, you can read through this report from the Brookings Institute: http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/papers/2008/5/women%20lawless%20fox/05_women_lawless_fox.pdf
In fact, in keeping with low US rankings in just about anything being thrown in our faces, you may be unpleasantly surprised to know that the United States also ranks 85th in the world in percentage of women in the national legislature. (Read the depressing news for yourself: http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.) Don’t worry, at 18.3% we are a full two percentage points ahead of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In case you were wondering, that’s North Korea, of Kim Jong Un/Il/Sun fame. Let the dance of victory begin!
Ok, so what’s to be done about this less than ideal situation? Those of you who are regular(ish) readers of this blog know that we are dedicated fans of The Good Wife. The most recent story arc depicts the conflicts, negotiations and encouragement that Alicia Florrick experiences as she tries to decide if she should run for office. Alicia is adamant she has no interest in running for office. But then Valerie Jarrett (the real one!) calls her to encourage her to run. “We need more good women to run for office,” Jarrett urges her. Somehow Alicia manages to soldier on and stick to her decision not to run. But then no one less than the mother of modern feminism, Gloria Steinem, meets her at an event and counsels her to run. How can Alicia resist? She ultimately throws her hat into the ring.
In real life, the situation is a bit different. If you are a woman and you want to run for office, where do you start? Undoubtedly, no Jarrets or Steinems will be calling you to beg you to run. Maybe, just maybe, your husband isn’t a high ranking politician. Maybe you don’t have friends in high places.
But studies, past experiences of elected women and just plain common sense tell us that there is always a first step. Show up. Raise your hand. Get involved. And don’t be afraid to have political ambition. Remember when Butch and Sundance jumped off a cliff? They didn’t worry about their swimming skills or what was at the bottom when they jumped. They just jumped. Running for office is a little like jumping off a cliff. It needs fortitude, daring, and bravado. Get involved. Make your voice heard. Win or lose, you will make politics a better place for having done so.