I just read a new paper out by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox titled 'Why Are Women Still Not Running for Public Office?'. Right now, America is 84th in the world in terms of percentage women in our legislature, with a whopping 16.3% of our seats in the House and Senate held by women. That is not only below Uganda, Burundi, and Cuba, it is lower than the international average itself.
Why is this? It's not, as Lawless and Fox note, because it is harder for women to win than men. And it's not because qualified women don't exist The problem is just that women don't seem to think they should or can run compared to men of similar demographic status and accomplishment. Part of this is cultural, and part of it is infrastructure, as women just aren't recruited as often as men (organizations like EMILY's List and She Should Run are set up to deal with this problem).
One of the consequences of this cultural problem is that progressive citizens run less than their share of the population, and conservatives run disproportionately higher than their share of the population.
Women in the sample, on average, are three years younger than men, a probable result of the fact that women's entry into the fields of law and business is a relatively recent phenomenon. Further, women are more likely to be Democrats and liberal-leaning, while men are more likely to be Republicans and conservative, a finding consistent with recent polls showing a partisan gender gap among the general U.S. population.
This pattern of who runs drives how progressive our politics is quite directly. If you look at the caucus, and Chris and I did last week, you'll see the pattern instantly.
||Non-white or non-male
The more women in office, the more progressives in office. There's good news in the report - since 2001, there has been an uptick in women doing the things that precede running for office, such as building a fundraising network and being recruited for office. And women are inspired across parties by women in positions of power such as Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, and Condoleeza Rice. In the Republican Party, 17 percent of women, compared to 4 percent of men find Hillary Clinton 'inspirational'.
I think the core challenge for progressive activists is to tell the story of the tough female progressive - the Donna Edwards and Darcy Burner versus the hypermale Jim Webb. It is a huge paradox that the archetypes we celebrate most - soldier, police officer, hard-nosed prosecutor - are typically good fits for men. By fitting this narrative, relatively conservative Democrats in swing or even blue districts like Ashwin Madia, Adam Cote, and Jon Powers skew our politics to the right like Brad Ellsworth and Joe Donnelly in 2006 did, while progressive older women like Leslie Byrne - who really got Jim Webb rolling with her early endorsement of him back in 2006 - have less raw material to work with. It should be quite obvious that the route to progressive change lies with more candidates like Leslie Byrne, Donna Edwards, Darcy Burner, and Sam Bennett, and fewer men like Al Wynn, Joe Sestak, Jim Webb, Jon Tester, Brad Ellsworth and Chris Carney.
Tough, kick-ass, no-nonsense women are a new and fresh way to say 'progressive'. It was nurses who took down Schwarzenegger, and it is women who can break down the 'good ole boys' network that still dominates Congress today. Now it's up to us to start telling their stories.
UPDATE: Northcountry offers this significant comment on Madia.
MN-03 is a great example of this. A strong female state senator (and a life-long democrat)who first ran for state office in 2005 by running and winning in a republican legislative district lost in the congressional endorsement process to an ex-Marine who was a John McCain volunteer in 2000 and a big supporter of Bob Dole in 1996.
You tell me who's going to be more supportive of progressive issues like universal healthcare, reproductive rights, and education and job training initiatives; especially in coaltion with a broad-based progressive movement.
Madia just wants to reduce the deficit and leave 20,000 or 30,000 troops in Iraq. Its great that he's on our side and will contribute to a democratic majority, but does he really advance progressive policies and values?
I'll note that Madia was supported by the netroots and activists over Bonoff. While I don't know the race particularly well, I don't see why someone like Madia, who wants to keep 20-30k troops in Iraq, should be considered particularly progressive, and I don't know why activists should be proud of this one, unless your only standard is that your guy 'won'. 20-30k troops in Iraq is a really bad idea that will lead to lots of death and mayhem.