Sandra Fluke, Nicolle Wallace, Chelsea Clinton and others talk about why more women don’t run for office in the U.S., and who serves as our biggest opponent
The United States ranks 78th in the world for the percentage of women in a nationally elected office – we are tied with Turkmenistan. With just 17 percent of Congress made up of women, and just 25 percent of all state and local politicians being female, women are sorely misrepresented in politics.
Since 1964, while women have voted in greater numbers than men and, since 1980, a great percentage of women have voted in every national election, “there’s clearly a disconnect and 20 years after the so-called ‘year of the woman’ in 1992,” former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton said Wednesday night at an event at 92Y in New York City. “We’re either clearly not having the right conversation or we’re not being heard loudly enough, – whether we’re running in heels, or flats, or boots.”
Clinton was the moderator of a panel of high-profile women in politics for an event entitled “Running in Heels: Where are the Women Candidates for 2012 – and How Can We Get More of Them?“ presented by 92Y and Glamour Magazine. Panelists included:
- Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council
- Nicolle Wallace, best-selling author of Eighteen Acres and It’s Classified, political commentator and former White House communications director under President George W. Bush
- Abby Huntsman Livingston, daughter of former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman who most recently worked on his campaign and previously worked for ABC News and for Good Morning America
- Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in politics
- Amy Holmes, former CNN contributor and news anchor for The Blaze and GBTV
- and Sandra Fluke, the former president of Georgetown University Law Students for Reproductive Justice, who recently entered the spotlight when conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh verbally attacked her for statements made before Congress on female contraception and health care.
One large conclusions made was that women are often their own worst enemies.
“I don’t see at all, any evidence, that gender holds us back. I think what holds us back is ourselves. We decide what we can’t do. We decide what we can’t risk,” said Quinn.”There’s tremendous potential – we just have to decide only to listen to ourselves and only to people who are encouraging to us.”
But Wallace, who was already a political veteran before joining John McCain’s presidential campaign during his 2008 run, said she never once felt that women were second-rate in her field until she started working on McCain’s team; there were many high-ranking women in Bush’s administration. “It was the first time in my politics career of being on the sidelines,” she said. “It is humbling and puts you right back to square one when you’re a professional woman who has been doing this for a decade.”
We need more women in politics not just because they are underrepresented, but because a female’s voice is necessary to elevate issues of importance to our communities. And we’re not just talking about women’s health or education or issues relating to children – a woman adds a very unique perspective to other issues, as well, including national defense and homeland security, budget and tax reform.
“We have to ask each other to get involved and do this because when it does happen, we know that the policies that come out when there’s more women involved, are better for our communities and our families,” said Schriock.
But Fluke noted that structural barriers in the United States are what prevents many women from attempting a run at politics – expensive child care, for one, and not all women having access to affordable contraception being another.
“We have to think about how our public policies create these barriers for women,” she said. “Let’s have more support for childcare that allows women to have these careers.”
Other conclusions included:
- Women often doubt their ability to achieve just as much, if not more, than men.
- Women need to not listen to the critics who tell them “you can’t,” but surround themselves with voices of support.
- Women are often reluctant to be a target for criticism. “For women, I think that can be a little more difficult decision than it can be for men,” Holmes said. Men like to “put scalps on their wall” and enjoy the competition, she added, but “to be a woman in public life certainly is not easy – you have to have a very thick skin and be prepared.”
- Women can also be each others’ fiercest competitors; they need to boost each other up, regardless of their personal politics. Women don’t get behind women just because they’re women,” said Wallace. “There is no one more vicious on their own than conservative women versus conservative women – it’s our own form of domestic violence.”
But there is also a very different burden for the woman who holds office than there is for the man. For most men in politics, their days may end when they get home after putting in a day in the office. They may continue to check email or take phone calls, but for the women – after putting in a 12-hour or more workday – they are often returning home to help kids with homework, make Halloween costumes, bake cookies or cupcakes for school, or cleaning the house.
“There is still a burden women place on themselves to do it all,” Wallace said. “It is not just structurally more challenging, but it is morally different for a woman who leaves her kids in the hands of others, who leaves the household in the hands of others.”
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