Women & Politics: Why Women? Why Now? Why Not
by Cathy Allen
Washington state is as good as it gets for women in power.
We frequently lead the country in firsts:
We were the first state to have women constitute 40 percent
We were the first to have a majority of women on the state’s
We are the first state to have all women elected to our
top two federal offices (U.S. Senate) and top state office (Governor).
We also have many locally elected women running our cities,
holding a third of all mayoral positions in King County.
Yet, we are not as strong as we used to be. Where we once
led the country with women holding 40 percent of the seats in the legislature,
we now have slipped to fourth place with women holding 33 percent of those
Women state many reasons why they choose not to run: They
don’t want their personal lives dissected in the newspapers; they
don’t have the money and hate raising it; they don’t want
to forfeit a job they may not get back if they lose; they don’t
have the time while raising a family, working and being involved with
other civic pursuits; and they feel they can be powerful in other ways.
Yet, women do make a difference – and they do bring
a sense of reality to government circles from their half of the population.
For example, in the last two years alone women legislators passed laws
Exempted the act of breastfeeding from the indecent exposure
laws and encouraged employers to provide safe, convenient and clean
environments that support breastfeeding;
Prohibited discrimination against domestic violence victims
in rental housing and allowed survivors to end their leases early without
Required hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency
contraception to sexual assault victims.
Why don’t you think about running? There has never
been a better time or place for women to think about joining the inner
circle of politics. Washington has more women who vote, more women who
contribute to campaigns, and more women leaders who have paved the way
for women to be seen as leaders. More of our young people (under 30) will
vote for women if they are on the ballot.
So why not you? What would you want to consider in making
a decision? There are many questions, but they are not difficult to answer.
Consider the following:
Why would you want to run? What have you ever done for your fellow constituents?
In which issues are you fluent? Do you live in a district where there
is likely to be an open seat coming up? Have you been watching the local
issues and know how to talk about them intelligently? What base of support
are you likely to have: Are they from a broad cross-section of the community?
It takes money to run campaigns. Do you have personal savings you can
devote to the campaign? About 10 percent of total campaign expenditures
usually comes from a candidate’s own pocketbook – especially
in a first campaign. Do you know 200 people who would each give you $100?
What organizations might endorse you and help you raise money or support?
Do you have 20 people who would drop everything and show up at your home
this weekend to help you accomplish the tasks required of a campaign?
Do you know people who have been involved in campaigns who could serve
as your key staff?
Personal Reality Check
Are you convincing? Are you in good physical health? Can you handle criticism
– or compliments – without squirming or looking weak? Can
you talk about yourself in bold terms? Can you delegate or are you a control
freak? Do you have an authoritative voice? How is your personal appearance
(do people think you are “professional”)? How will your family
deal with the campaign?
What’s in Your Closet?
Campaigns aren’t easy. Any – almost every – campaign
is filled with some degree of mudslinging, even if it only reaches the
whispering campaign level. Here are some of the negative attacks other
women have had to face:
• Drunk driving
• Lied on resume
• Poor voting record
• Criminal record
• Bankruptcy or bad credit rating
• Messy divorce
• Drug use
• Health problems
• Failure to file taxes
• Absenteeism in public office
• Fired from a job
• Scandals involving spouse or
• Scandals associated with an organization.
The good news is that any woman can survive negative attacks
if she is prepared to face them directly.
Are You Leadership Material?
If you have championed causes, held appointed office on a board or commission,
led a neighborhood lobby, or worked on a large charity event, then you
have met a number of people in the community. What do those people think
of you? Here are some clues to determine if you are leadership material:
• The entire room stops to listen when you speak.
• When you talk to the press, you get quoted – favorably.
• You can rally a group of people to help you by just calling
them to action.
• You are asked to serve on community task forces or special committees.
• Community leaders go out of their way to talk to you when they
see you in public.
• People generally appreciate your solutions to problems –
and they tell you.
This is a great year for leadership opportunities. There
are many local city council, county council, school board and other posts
up for election. Not everyone should run for office, but more women should
take the plunge. All of us will benefit by bringing more women to the
public policy tables.
So, why not you?
Cathy Allen is a Seattle-based
political consultant who specializes in electing women to public office.
A co-founder of the Center for Women & Democracy, Allen trains women
all over the world to run. She recently returned from Lebanon and Jordan
where she is helping women in these emerging democracies.
©2005 Caliope Publishing Company