And according to experts, electing women doesn’t just feel better: it delivers better results for constituents and community.
On two consecutive weekends in February, two of my representatives – one, a 31-year-old newly-elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives from California’s 25th House district, the other, a 40-something newly-elected member of the California Assembly from district 38 – held swearing-in ceremonies in their communities.
I’ve been to hundreds of political events in my lifetime – after all, my first foray into political action occurred during high school, when I volunteered for Bobby Kennedy’s 1968 California presidential primary campaign. So I’ve seen plenty of politicians up close, yet still not quite personal, through the years.
That’s what made these first two meetings of 2019 so different. They were personal. Also friendly. Engaging. Emotional. And real.
Why the difference? I’d argue that it’s because both of my newly elected representatives are women.
Male officeholders whose events I’ve attended through the years have been decidedly dignified. Yeah, sometimes a guy cracked a joke and often they smiled – but they seemed to insist on formality, as if compelled to remind us with every word and gesture, “I am a very important person.”
Women leaders, it seems, aren’t afraid to show excitement and emotion and joy. And they’re not afraid to connect.
There were tears.
Tears from Congresswoman Katie Hill’s former high school assistant principal, as he proudly introduced her to an auditorium full of California 25 residents.
And tears from Katie as she listened to a grade schooler named Addison – the campaign face of Hill’s advocacy for affordable healthcare. “Katie is my best friend…on my birthday in the hospital, she face-timed me. On Halloween, she came to the hospital to see me. On Election Day, she ate mac and cheese with me.”
And there were hugs. Lots of hugs. Not perfunctory hugs. Real hugs.
Hugs as Assemblywoman Christy Smith thanked each of the Girl Scouts who’d led the gathering in the Pledge of Allegiance. Hugs for campaign volunteers she hadn’t seen since November. Hugs for people who’d come to hear her speak for the first time ever.
Hugs for everyone who stood in long lines to take a picture with each woman.
There seems to be a different kind of connection between women in public office and the people they’re elected to serve. Women aren’t afraid to be themselves. And their constituents know it.
It’s one of the differences political analysts noticed during the 2018 midterms.
As I reported in my new book, Ms. Nice Guy Lost – Here’s How Women Can Win, women ran last year “on their own terms. Most female candidates ignored the conventional ‘wisdom’ that urged them to run solely on their resumes, and instead shared their personal stories with voters – stories about their families and personal lives, about raising kids, dealing with sexual harassment and abuse, confronting drug abuse, paying off debt. They ran as real people, who understand the real challenges facing ordinary Americans.”
It’s no wonder Hill and Smith’s constituents feel like they know them. They do. They know Hill suffered a miscarriage in her late teens, and it’s one reason she firmly supports a woman’s right to choose. And they know Smith was hit with a last-minute sexist attack mailer from her 2016 Assembly opponent – a false accusation that allowed him to eke out a victory that year, but did him no good two years later, when being a woman candidate turned from obstacle to advantage and his misogyny became the political kiss of death.
But the real value that derives from electing women isn’t just feeling better about the person representing you. It comes from what women bring to the job – and what they deliver to their constituents.
As Ms. Nice Guy explains, “putting more women in positions of power can mean passing laws that affect all women’s lives.”
“After Iceland’s Parliament became almost 50 percent female, it was a slam-dunk to pass legislation that, as of Jan. 1, 2018, made it illegal for employers there to pay women less than men. Companies with 25 employees or more are now subject to fines if they fail the government’s pay certification review.”
“Years of academic research confirms, Georgetown University political scientist Michele Swers told Vox in March 2017, that ‘women in Congress tend to shift the conversation to focus more on bills and policies that relate to women specifically – such as increasing paid leave or prosecuting violence against women’.”
“More women in public office also means more work gets done. In the same Vox piece, author Sarah Kliff reported that a recent study of Congress since 2009 ‘found that the average female legislator had 2.31 of her bills enacted, compared with men, who turned 1.57 bills into law’.”
“And women bring home the bacon. On average, Kliff said, ‘Female legislators send 9 percent more funds back to their districts than their male colleagues’.”
“Why? Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics and a political science professor at Rutgers University, says it’s because ‘women, far more than men, prize results over status’.”
“A 2001 survey of Congress backs up her assertion. It found that the number one reason women run for office is the ability to effect change in society. The number one reason for men? They always wanted to be a politician’.”
So what lesson should we take from this as we start to choose among the many Democratic candidates throwing their hats in the 2020 presidential campaign ring?
Here’s a thought: vote for one of the women. Kamala. Elizabeth. Amy. Kirsten. Tulsi. Marianne. Take your pick. (I’ve got serious policy and credibility issues with the last two names on that list, but that’s a whole different conversation.)
Women want to DO the job, not just HOLD it. They want to WIELD power on our behalf, not GRASP it for themselves.
And women voters seem more interested now in the idea of a female president than they were just three years ago.
As 65-year-old Beverly Duval, an office administrator from Manchester, New Hampshire, told Bloomberg reporter Arit John on Feb. 23, “I definitely think that the Democratic nominee will be a woman, I’m hoping so. Men have been given many years and I think that women now have…their chance to show that they can govern, too.”
“I like a lot of things about Bernie Sanders,” added Linds Jakows, another Manchester resident, “but I think there’s a lot of things that he still doesn’t get. I really hope I have a strong progressive woman to vote for.”
Female voters in New Hampshire told Bloomberg that, while gender wouldn’t be the sole determining factor for them, they hoped a woman “would campaign on the issues they value and win.”
And they’ve got a point. Men have been in charge since 1776. When the 2020 election rolls around, they will have held the reins of power in America for 244 years. But they still don’t seem to have gotten the hang of it.
Enough. It’s our turn.
Vote for women.
Delivering a comprehensive summary of the many attacks waged on American women’s rights and opportunities by Trump and the GOP since 2016 – and a to-do list for fighting back – Marcy Miroff Rothenberg’s Ms. Nice Guy Lost – Here’s How Women Can Win is available from store.bookbaby.com and at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and Goodreads.com.