The case for a female senator

To the Editor:

The United States ranks 79 out of 95 countries in the percentage of women in political office.We have only 17 senators and 16.8 % in the House of Representatives. In 2010 the number of women holding political office declined for the first time in 30 years! Consider this in the light of the current male- dominated Congress which has a 7% percent approval rating. Note that this month’s Fortune magazine reports that THRIVING nations have developed the educational and social tools to make women equal players. “Fair pay and employment for women are not feminist issues but economic ones.”

So we must ask why is it so difficult for Americans to elect  women? First, the cost of running a campaign has been prohibitive. EMILY’s list (Early Money is Like Yeast) was created to financially assist women candidates across the country but it hasn’t been enough.  Now progress has been made.  This barrier was broken by Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin who led the way for Elizabeth Warren and other female senatorial candidates to earn enough financial backing to run.

Secondly, women have been reluctant to jump into the fray, content to work in the background.  With that in mind the Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics initiated the 2012 Project to identify viable candidates for political office. It seeks out accomplished women in areas that have been traditionally male-dominated (finance, science, technology, energy, health care or business), women who are over the age of  45 with established careers,  reduced family responsibilities,  financial stability, and deep roots in their community. (Elizabeth Warren fits this criteria but interestingly her age, professional level, and finances have been used against her with her significant accomplishments ignored or dismissed.)

“When women are part of the negotiation and are part of the decision making the outcomes are just better.” - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D)Finally, female candidates have to overcome gender biases and stereotyping evidenced in both men and women with the latter ironically being even more vociferous.  Attacks on Warren range from her appearance, speaking style, and fashion sense to the more destructive accusations that question her accomplishments, character and honesty. Yet Warren has been awarded the most prestigious awards in teaching at Harvard Law, named one of the 100 most influential people in the world for her expertise in American Bankruptcy law and consumer finance, became a successful advocate for new consumer-finance regulations, named chair of the congressional oversight panel that oversees the Troubled Asset Relief Program and was instrumental in the creation of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau to say nothing of her numerous publications and government service in general.

Why is it a benefit to have women represented in our governing bodies?  It is not to say that women are better or smarter than men but that they are different in their approaches. They operate differently demonstrating the ability to negotiate, collaborate and walk in someone else’s shoes with emotional intelligence and empathy. Research also shows that women leaders introduce more bills, bring resources home to their districts and advocate for new issues on the legislative agenda. Women legislators cross the aisle in spite of very real differences in beliefs and political party.  Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) says, “When women are part of the negotiation and are part of the decision making the outcomes are just better.”

It is for these reasons that I appeal to voters to look beyond party affiliations and gender biases to crack the glass ceiling that could deny Elizabeth Warren and other female candidates the opportunity to help solve the problems that face us as a nation.  We are seriously missing a vital part of an equation!

J. Marie Stevenson
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