My childhood best friend had a purple sparkly t-shirt that read “No way, First Lady. I want to be PRESIDENT.” Back then, we played with CEO Barbie and watched movies like “Working Girl,” in which women with big hair and even bigger shoulder pads used their stiletto heels to high-kick through the glass ceiling. We were told we could be whatever we wanted to be. We believed it.
Yet none of us became politicians. We didn’t want to and, even if we did, it would have been hard.
Though women make up half of the state’s population and 54% of North Carolina voters, we make up a paltry 27% of elected officials. In fact, only 44 of our 100 counties have women serving on their boards of county commission.
The issue, though, is not that nobody votes for women; quite the opposite in fact.
In this recent report from Meredith College on the Status if Women in North Carolina Politics, researchers report that “when women run, women win.” The problem is that so few women run.
So, what’s keeping women from trying?
The Women in Parliaments Global Forum and Gender and Development Unit of the World Bank are seeking to answer this through an extensive worldwide survey. Their preliminary results indicate that self-perception, norms about gender roles and childcare, financial status, hierarchies of power, and diminished political networks are all pieces of this puzzle. The Meredith study and Pew Women and Leadership Poll echo these findings.
This is particularly detrimental to women of color, those from immigrant families and trans* women as they face even greater social and financial obstructions. This stinks because women in minority populations generally “count all underrepresented groups as part of their core constituency and work hard on their behalf.”
Many of us can attest that we need to see ourselves in candidates and representatives. We are tired of being told who we are and how to live by those who do not share our experiences.
How do we begin?
The Center for American Women and Politics keeps an updated list of resources for those interested in running for office or working on campaigns. Additionally, they have launched an initiative called Teach A Girl to Lead, which uses a gender lens to help young people envision a future with more women in civic office. They equip girls with necessary tools to enter politics and engage boys to act as allies and supporters for aspiring women leaders.
Women’s participation in local politics opens avenues to national representation. It is critical that we see more women — particularly women of color — engaging in political processes. Part of this is addressing the real challenges that many women face and the rest is shaking off the internalized doubts and fears that prevent us from even attempting it.
We want to vote for women. But we need women to vote for.