Like most young women of my generation, running for office was something I never pictured myself doing. I tended to think of politicians as coming from two different-and unappealing groups-extreme partisans and opportunists.
But when I decided to run for US Congress in early 2009, shortly after my daughter was born and in the throws of the idealism and hope that President Obama’s inauguration represented, I realized that things are the way they are in this country in large part because people like me, young mothers, young women struggling to make careers and find their way in the world, don’t participate very much in the political process.
We tend not to run for office. We feel in fact virtually excluded from the national political conversation. And I felt, and still feel, that the absence of the voices of women generally, and young women in particular, was hurting us as a country.
So, even though I felt absolutely 100% terrified about the whole process, I threw my hat in the ring and ran for US Congress. I thought that if I could overcome my shyness and insecurities and run for office, perhaps that would serve as an example for a few more young women to run and that those few more could serve as an example for more still until eventually thousands of young women, from all over the country, decided to participate in the political process and run for office at every level, and the higher the better. There’s no question in my mind that if this were to happen things in this country would really change.
We have no women under 30 in Congress and less than 0.5% of our representatives (2 people) are women under 40. Women of any age are less than 18% of Congress.
Think about that.
The mothers and daughters who I work with, my peers, my sisters, women buying baby bottles, looking for cough medicine for their kids, trying to balance the workplace with young families, we have no voice.
I am not saying that young women, or women generally have all the answers, but to be so underrepresented, means that the voices and contributions of the majority of our population go basically unheard. We have a better country because strong young women now graduate from MBA program, law schools, CPA programs, engineering programs, etc. and now compete, win and contribute to America’s top corporations, hospitals, universities and schools. And yet politics remains largely a male dominated boys club with a dismal reputation and shockingly poor results that no one is satisfied with.
I can’t say that my own race for Congress was an experience I would wholeheartedly recommend to other young women. We still live in a world where young women can be called stupid, airheaded, slutty girls with relative impunity and where, despite an 8% approval rating, lousy incumbents win more than 90% of their elections. Politics is vicious, laced with a constant pressure to raise money and dominated by the interest groups who distort our legislative process for the benefit of the few. But things are never going to change when the same types of people keep running and winning and when young women still consider politics something that other people do.
How can we tell our daughters that they can grow up to be anything they want to be, when there are so few powerful young women in the public eye?
It is our responsibility, as young women and as people with mothers daughters, and sisters, to change the optics and the substance of our political discourse through the participation of young women in politics. The most important thing we can do in this regard is very simple: encourage a phenomenal young woman to run for office. Tell her she’d be great. Tell her you believe in her and will be there for her if she decides to run.
Women receive this sort of encouragement towards politics much less frequently than men, and it’s a key part of the reason that women run for office so much less frequently than men. I would hate to look at our country 10 years from now and find us still fighting the same battles, with the same types of politicians, in the same type of decline and paralysis, with the same 8% approval rating and the same 0.5% representation of young women. Right now we are only making use of the talents of a very small segment of our society. Our daughters (and our sons) deserve better.