“She came home one day and said, ‘Mom, I don’t want you to run for president.’ I said, ‘Kate, that’s not going to happen. Why are you asking me this?’ She said, ‘You know what, Mom? Because I want to be the first woman president.’”With the dearth of women at all levels of political office, we can’t count on political moms or dads to be the sole motivators for women to run. Nor would we want to discourage the innumerable qualified women from running because they were not born into political access or privilege. However, as research shows, we need to do better in filling the pipeline of potential women candidates, and that means looking at all options and pathways to office, including being engaged with and inspired by parents who participate in politics – whether as elected officials, advocates, or engaged citizens. Research shows that familial socialization vís a vís politics can increase women’s likelihood of considering running for office later in life, so parental political engagement in any capacity can foster an environment in which more daughters are willing to run. The history of political kinship in American politics is long, and the Kennedys are likely the clearest example of an American political dynasty. In fact, a Kennedy has served in the U.S. Congress in all but two of the last 67 years. Of all of the Kennedys who have served in elected office since 1892, however, only one has been a woman. In 1995, Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, became lieutenant governor of Maryland and the first Kennedy woman to hold an elected office. Townsend is not the first, but is now among a growing class of women who have disrupted the patrilineal threads of political kinship. And, who knows, we may soon be talking about Chelsea, Malia, Sasha, or Kate among the newest generation of political daughters!
And for those who fear gender exclusivity of any stripe, let’s look at recent electoral history. Over 60% of general election U.S. House races in the past decade have been all-male contests, and 85% of uncontested candidates have been men.
About two-thirds of general election races for the U.S. Senate have been between two male candidates, and 80 of 106 gubernatorial races between 2004 and 2012 had no women. In contrast, about 2% of U.S. House races, 4% of U.S. Senate races, and less than 2% of gubernatorial contests in the past decade have been all-female. And of course, men-only races at each of these levels of office only increase the further back we look.
Gender exclusivity in electoral contests should not be a goal, but it has been a reality for male candidates for far too long. For women to increase their political representation, they need to be more present as candidates. And if woman vs. woman races are a surefire way to get more women into office, then maybe an increase in gender exclusivity for women candidates actually means greater gender inclusivity in today’s politics.
- “Challenge yourselves.” - Kate Brown, Director of Center for Creative Learning at the Mississippi University for Women
- “You are the next generation of leaders.” – Heather McTeer Toney, former Mayor of Greenville, MS and Executive Director of the Women’s Institute for Excellence at Mississippi Valley State University
- “Self-awareness is always included in the definition of leadership.” – Carole Leland, International Leadership Consultant
- “Don’t let yourself think you can’t do something; let your heart tell you what you can do.” – Heather McTeer Toney, former Mayor of Greenville, MS and Executive Director of the Women’s Institute for Excellence at Mississippi Valley State University
- “Remember three words: be, know, and do. Be who you are. Know who you are and what you stand for. Take action.” - Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “Respect does not come with the job title; you have to earn it.” - Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “People don’t care how much you know until they know you care” - John Maxwell
- “Be willing to extend a helping hand even if they will advance beyond you.” – Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- “You can’t get to second base if you have a foot still on first.” – Amy Tuck, former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi
- Don’t be afraid to say “I was wrong.”
- If someone tells you “Good Job”, make them tell you why so you will know what to continue or repeat.
- You may need others’ help to achieve your goals, but don’t forget that others may need your help to succeed too.
- The road to success is always under construction.
- Team sports participation is important because it teaches you that you’ll lose sometimes, but you have to move on and try again.
- God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen twice as much as you speak.
- “If someone ever tells you something can’t be done, what they’re really telling you is ‘I don’t know how to do it’.” – Neely Carlton, former Mississippi state senator
- “Never ever ever burn a bridge.” - Sherry Vance, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Butler, Snow, O’Mara, Stevens, and Cannada, PLLC
- “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” – Alice Walker
- Challenge people if they say derogatory things about women.
- More people should challenge the world and our traditions.
- Your goal should be to be so good at what you do that others can’t ignore you.
- “Women can do what they want; they are made of an indescribable fiber.” – MS Commissioner of Agriculture Cindy Hyde Smith
- “If you want a job talked about, get a man. If you want a job done, get a woman.” – Liz Welch, Secretary of the Mississippi State Senate
- “Don’t tell someone no. Just accept the opportunity and become an expert in it.” – Ashley Buckman, Jones/Walker
- Capitalize on the opportunities you are given. They may look small in front of you, but they are huge behind you.
- You can’t put a dollar amount on experience.
- Develop relationships with the people you work with and also those involved with the position you want.
- You can’t be all things to all people. (Amen.)
- Be flexible. Nothing is going to go as planned. Don’t over plan your life. Let life come to you.
- Remember that a small change you make will make a large difference down the line. (Hello, butterfly effect.)
- Never compromise your integrity.
- Keep people’s confidences.
- Always give back. (Hmmm this sounds familiar… http://luckettmenow.wordpress.com/2013/05/15/always-come-back/)
- Always take chances to expand your knowledge.
- Keep your main themes to remind the people why you are there.
- Show your passion.
- If you say you don’t like/agree with something, make sure to offer a solution or alternative.
- Work together.
- Do your homework.
- Be focused and less vague when speaking on a point.
- Uplift and support your colleagues during the presentation and behind the scenes.
- Be aware of who you are around. Be formal especially when addressing those who have worked hard for the title they hold.
Crystal DesVignes is a graduate student in political science at Rutgers University – Newark. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree and recently worked as a graduate intern at the Center for American Women and Politics. The views presented in this entry are her own.
On March 22, 2013, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) hosted approximately fifty African American women for its annual Run Sister Run program in conjunction with its Ready to Run™ program. As part of the diversity initiative along with Elección Latina, and Rising Stars, Run Sister Run offers campaign and political leadership training for those of the African Diaspora. The program is an opportunity to receive encouragement and valuable insight, and to interact first-hand with other African American women who have either run for elected office, are currently running for a position, plan to run in the future, or are contemplating running for an elected office.
The program is geared toward making sure that African American women who are politically-minded have a space to network and be directed to resources and people who will help them to meet their political aspirations. As a third time attendee of the program, I was already a believer in its importance. But, as the saying goes, the third time was the charm for me in solidifying my understanding of why we need to continue programs like this and expand them around the country.
As I write this piece, I am painfully aware of the issues that women face in our country, even in 2013. We are underpaid for our work in the market place (hence the need for equal pay legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act) and undervalued for our work in the home. We were reminded last year of the fragility of our right to reproductive healthcare, and there was even discussion around whether our bodies could “shut down” a pregnancy that resulted from a “legitimate rape.” We were reduced to being included in “binders full of women” in the last presidential election as one candidate sought to prove that he supported gender equality in his gubernatorial cabinet. Despite all of this, and in some cases because of this, we press on and continue to fight for our place in the decision-making process in our country and government.
The road to political inclusion is hard for women, to say the least. But for women of color, and African American women it particular, it can mean being doubly excluded from the political arena due to racialization and gendering. Of 98 women serving in Congress (18.3 % of the 535 seats in the 113th Congress), 30 or 30.6% are women of color. Only 14 are African American women. African American women hold only 241 seats in state legislatures across 44 states, and although New Jersey has an African American woman currently serving as speaker of the State Assembly (the Honorable Shelia Y. Oliver), she is only the second African American woman to hold this office in a state legislature nationwide.
The numbers don’t lie. The people who come to the table to make decisions in our cities, states, and capitals should not all look alike. They should represent the country as we know it. To have a more inclusive racial/ethnic and gendered make-up among our elected officials isn’t just good politics, it makes for better government. We need more representation from African American women. The Center for American Women and Politics provides just a forum for this endeavor in Run Sister Run.