Why don’t more women run for local political office? The answer is far more complex that one might think. Of course, there’s residual bias from a time when men did all the leading in public and private life. The way local politics are structured, “gatekeepers” comprising longtime political operatives, retired politicians, incumbents and fundraisers, still decide who will make the best candidates for local office. They just naturally think of men for the job.
In recent decades, women politicians have made some inroads into the traditionally male bastions of government. Yet, the relative numbers remain far out of balance. According to the Center for American Progress, women hold fewer than 25 percent of state legislative positions, 10 percent of governorships and 19 percent of mayoral posts in cities with populations over 30,000.
It’s also about self-esteem and simply convincing women that they are as capable and suitable for a political career as men, according to Andrea Harrington, a Richmond attorney who last year lost a race for a state Senate seat to Adam Hinds. “(Women) face higher standards throughout their lives, and have lower levels of self confidence as a result,” she said. “They’re critiqued more.” Men, she added, are more likely to think of politics as a career move, while women have to be convinced that they are worthy.
To address this discrepancy in attitudes, two months ago Ms. Harrington and two other local women, Barbara S. Goldberg and Amy Diamond, co-founded the Berkshire County Women’s Political Caucus, a nonpartisan organization whose goal is to promote, support and encourage women candidates for public office (Eagle, June 25). The group already boasts approximately 40 members.
The women stress the term “nonpartisan,” because the issues they want to emphasize, such as early child education, support for working families, health care, and other social topics are universal. “How do you say they belong in the women’s realm?” said Ms. Goldberg. “They belong to everybody.”
More women in legislative bodies, according to Ms. Harrington, would provide the diversity that leads to a better product. “Women should have a seat at the table and be decision makers, because we need their perspective on the larger issues of economic development. The economy in Berkshire County is tough, and that affects everybody. It’s our number one issue, creating more and better jobs. We need them for everybody — women, men, (those of) every sexual orientation and gender.”
And then there is the way women tend to approach problem solving, which is particularly useful at a time when the country is so politically fractured. “It’s win-win. They work in a more collaborative style,” said Ms. Goldberg.
In fact, Ms. Goldberg stressed that, far from being anti-male, the BCWPC welcomes the support of men for both their organization and the candidates they encourage to run for office. “They just can’t join,” she said, laughing.
Any grassroots organization that encourages greater civic involvement, regardless of its particular focus, is to be celebrated in an era when the current nature of politics has alienated so much of the electorate. The BCWPC is therefore a welcome, and needed, addition to Berkshire County’s political scene.
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