In the aftermath of the midterm elections, as Democrats huddle in a corner to lick their wounds, feminists have spent their time and column space railing against the pre-election notions that 2010 was going to be "Year of the Woman: Part II". While a record number of women ran for Congress this year - 262 in the House of Representatives and 36 in the Senate – fewer women will come to Washington. With a few races still too close to call, it appears that female representation in Washington will remain about 17%. For all the talk, you’d think the 2010 elections were a travesty for the women’s movement.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s an appalling statistic, an embarrassment to the cause and to the country as we grapple with being ranked 73rd in the world for female representation in the lower House. But the idea that the 2010 midterm elections forced women to take two steps back and one to the side is too short-sighted and narrow for everything the feminist movement is trying to accomplish.
The truth is that women benefit enormously from having positive female role models. And when women run for office, the women’s empowerment movement takes a step forward. I’m confident that consultants, experts, and pundits alike would agree with me on this one: it’s virtually impossible to win an election if you don’t run.
If anything, the vast number of women who are running for federal office and losing should be inspiring to other women. Ok, sure, it’d be better if they’d won their races and could actually go to Washington to shape policy as Members of Congress. However, proving to women all over the country that it’s ok to run and lose is a powerful lesson that we also need to learn.
In the past few decades, as women have taken up careers and juggled the housework and child-rearing all at once, there’s been an enormous pressure for us to be able to "do it all." Women are held to extraordinarily high standards. Particularly as we are still seen to be the exception instead of the rule, female leaders are scrutinized to an absurd extent as our every move, blink, phrase, outfit, and decision are judged as part of the overall conversation on "Can Women Lead?" Faced with that kind of pressure, the risk of losing an election can be the deciding factor in a long list of reasons not to run for office.
But this year, a record number of women ran for Congress. Personally, I view that as a win for the women’s movement. In the past, female candidates on the losing end of Election Day have often continued to have great careers. Jennifer Lawless, Director of American University’s Women & Politics Institute, and Siobhan Bennett, CEO of the Women’s Campaign Forum, are two great examples of women who lost Congressional elections and went on to become powerful voices in their field.
In its 2008 report on Benchmarking Women’s Leadership, the White House Project stated that "women candidates, from mayors like Shirley Franklin of Atlanta to presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton, have reported anecdotally that everywhere they travel, women tell them how their campaigns were an inspiration to get involved in politics-and beyond that, to try new challenges in their own lives." It wasn’t their electoral victories, it was their campaigns that were inspiring. The fact that they were running in the first place.
Women didn’t win enough seats to name 2010 "Year of the Woman: Part II" as so many pundits and writers had wanted. But that depends on how you define the Year of the Woman. Personally, I’m inspired by the record number of women who ran ambitious and aggressive campaigns this year to serve in the United States Congress. I can’t wait to see what all of them do next.
We are pleased to welcome Abigail to the Fem2.0 blogging team! Abigail is currently a Fellow with the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee Subcommittee on International Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight. Between January and September 2010, Abigail served as the Communications Director Secretary for the Women’s Congressional Staff Association. Previously, she worked as a Legislative Correspondent in the office of Senator Amy Klobuchar, handling international relations, global women’s issues, and the armed forces. Abigail most recently returned from Columbus, Ohio where she was working as the Press Secretary for the Lee Fisher for U.S. Senate campaign. Abigail graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 2006 and currently attends graduate school at Johns Hopkins University where she is pursuing her Master of Arts Degree in Global Security Studies, focusing on the intersection between gender and conflict. Follow Abigail on Twitter.
Above Right Image: Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy ran for reelection in Ohio’s 15th congressional district. Maryellen O’Shaughnessy, currently the Clerk of the Court of Common Pleas in Franklin County, Ohio, ran for Ohio Secretary of State. Paula Brooks sits on the Franklin County, Ohio Board of Commissioners and ran for Congress in the 12th Congressional District. All three women lost their 2010 bids for elected office.