Monday, November 1, 2010

Lady Liberty? Women Hesitant to Run for Office in the U.S.

Political Strategist Stacey Chavis’s résumé rivals the Grapes of Wrath in length. Chavis is the former Southern Regional Director of the White House Project, Deputy Finance Director for the Democratic Party of Georgia, Board member for United Way Metro Atlanta – Women’s Leadership Council, and graduate of Yale University’s Women’s Campaign School. Oh, and she runs her own political consulting, strategy, and training firm. In short, Stacey is an expert in politics, particularly in the area of women running for office. 

At Saturday’s Policy Forum 2010, Stacey educated the Younger Women’s Task Force about the state of our union and how the U.S. measured up when it comes to women in political office. “Did you know that the United States of America is 82nd in the world for women in elected office? We’re behind Mexico, Pakistan, and China.” You remember China, right? That country with a history of female infanticide is beating the United States in the number of females in elected office. “Women make up 55% of the voting population here. That means if women wanted a woman in office, we could make it happen,” said Chavis.  

So what keeps America’s women from running? “There are a number of factors at play here. It could be fundraising. Traditionally, women have a very hard time asking for money, which is how you fund your campaign. It might be that women are caretakers in relationships, and the children come first. Women often have to think about having dinner on the table every day at 5 pm. It’s hard to manage a campaign when you’re worried about your family. And some single women are worried that men will be intimidated by their run for office,” Chavis explained. 

Midterm Election Candidate and our own Policy and Advocacy Director Carry Smith spoke about her experience with her current bid for office. “It’s a challenge, running for election in the boys’ club. You would think that in our state sexism isn’t still prevalent. Well, it is alive here…People ask me if I have children, why I’m not married. It’s none of their business, but they still ask. Then the whispers start. My skin has gotten so thick since I began this race.” 

Even with the pressures Smith is facing on her campaign, it isn’t deterring her from running for election. In fact, the only way to combat these stigmas is to encourage women to stand up and fight for political office. Says Smith, “Women don’t have to simply coexist—we can lead.”

Photo credit Paul Martin Eldridge

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