Women in politics: Offering different insights

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Washington, March 24, 2017 | comments
Before Donald Trump became president, I was lucky to have 50 people attend a town-hall meeting. Now when I announce a public event, thousands of people RSVP within hours. My constituents are enraged and engaged in a way I’ve never seen before.

As the first big meeting approached, I was curious who was behind all those RSVPs … who would be there? As I scanned the enormous crowd for the first time, I noticed one common thread — they were by and large (but not entirely) female. We estimate that about 80 percent of the people who call and write my office right now are women.

There is no question that President Trump’s personal and policy record on women’s issues is abysmal. Women are especially concerned about their health care, pay parity, abortion rights, sexual assault and just generally about the integrity and direction of our country.

The most common question they ask me is “What can I do?”

One way to make an impact is to hold public office. Marching demonstrates support. Running is all in.

Will all of the anti-Trump activism from women translate into more women running for and winning public office?

I certainly hope so.

Despite the fact that women are so activated in politics right now and make up more than half of our population, we make up only 19 percent of the Congress. That’s a problem for us and for our country.

What difference does it make to have women in office? We provide different insights. We have a different set of exposures on policies and issues that need an equal voice.

We set the examples that show our daughters and granddaughters what role they can play. I was heartbroken when a young girl told me she didn’t think the vice president could be a woman because there has never been one. You can’t be what you can’t see.

Four decades ago women made up less than 5 percent of the Congress. We have come far but have a long way to go.

Unlike with men, for women of my generation public office was a post you sought if you did not have a family or after your kids were grown. Now I am heartened to know many accomplished younger female colleagues including mothers of young children.

Hopefully, these role models will show women of all ages you can do these jobs well without giving up your family goals.

What hurdles do women candidates face? We face all the same ones men do including fundraising, debates and negative TV commercials as well as some additional obstacles that are greater for us and like Ginger Rogers we do it all walking backward in high heels.

A recent study by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation found that perceptions of women are evolving but that voters still hold women to a different standard. They expect female candidates to not only be qualified but to be likable in a way they don’t expect of men. Research shows we have to find a balance of strong and “nice” that men don’t.

We also have to find ways to take credit for our accomplishments, something women aren’t generally as comfortable doing as men. They self-select. Women wait to be asked. That is changing.

It’s hard to believe it but Trump has only been president for two months and we have more than 20 months until the midterm election. A movement has been ignited, but can we sustain it?

Making it to the next election with strong women still involved and hopefully running for office themselves will be a marathon and not a sprint. But if he continues at his current pace, President Trump will no doubt give women a new reason every day to stay involved.

Who would have thought the Trump presidency would create the spark that ignites a whole new generation of women leaders?

I am excited to see so many new people involved. People who have never done anything political in their lives, many of them women, are suddenly moved to contact my office and learn how they can create political change. People woke up and suddenly realized elections have massive consequences. It matters who is in office and what they accomplish.

We don’t win if we don’t put ourselves out there.

This editorial first appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune

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