5 Reasons Women Don’t Run for Office

I'd vote for any of these women, including me!

The White House Project.    She Should Run.   Take Your Seat.    Emerge America.   The 2012 Project.

These are just a few of the groups that try hard — really hard — to find and recruit women to get into the arena with the political boys.  Their common goal is to train and motivate women to run for elective office to bring a fresh perspective to running our towns, our states and our country, instead of just leaving it to the guys (and mostly white guys, at that).

Every election season these organizations lament the fact that so few women run for elective office in comparison to men and try different approaches to increase their recruitment efforts.  Studies have shown that one reason to explain the fact that women comprise such small percentages of elected officials is that women have to be convinced to run.  Unless they’re asked more than once, many qualified women candidates just don’t get out there; men, on the other hand, seem to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and just say, “Hey! I think I’ll run for office today!”  No wondering whether they have enough qualifications.  No hesitance about whether they’re the best for the job.  Men are usually just more confident about throwing their own hats in the ring.

What is it about us gals that we need our arms to be twisted to get in a race?  More than one person has suggested I should run for office, but there is no way on God’s green earth I would ever do that.  I love writing about politics and analyzing them and parsing and dissecting.  But I think there are other ways I can be useful to help make the change I want to see.  Campaign life is not for me.

As for other women, there’s more to our collective reluctance than the idea that we don’t see ourselves as candidate material.  I know there are plenty of women who are confident that they are better qualified than a whole heck of a lot of those guys out there. (The photo above is Exhibit A).

So if we think we’re just as, if not more, qualified than men, what’s holding us back?

1. Women don’t want to subject their families to the uber-scrutiny that comes with being a candidate these days. Political life has always put candidates and their families under a very public microscope, but that’s become exponentially worse with the need to feed the 24/7 cable news monster, as well as the increased use of airing the “dirty laundry” of one’s opponents, even if it isn’t all that stinky.

2. Political rhetoric is violent and vindictive. Think former Congressional candidate Krystal Ball and those “racy” college photos that her opponents found.  Think newly-minted Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren being the target of one right wing blogger’s not-so-subtle reference to his revolver and a “contract.” Even if most of that sort of thing is just talk, who wants to roll the dice?

3. Getting elected doesn’t mean getting anything done. One Congressman from Texas said in a recent XM POTUS Radio interview that the only bills that have a snowball’s chance of getting passed in Washington, D.C. right now are ones just to keep the government from shutting down.  No one — on either side — wants to touch what really needs to be done, and that’s finding ways to create jobs.  If political office is seen as a place where nothing can be accomplished other than spinning wheels, most women will view that as a waste of their precious and limited time.

4. Children. There are certainly high profile examples of mothers of young children in positions of power like U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Cathy McMorris Rodgers.  And yes, Nancy Pelosi has seen to it that there are breastfeeding rooms in the halls of Congress.  But most women I know struggle just to keep up with a “regular” job and family responsibilities, let alone the grueling schedules that these women have.  Yes, there should be more moms of young children in the halls of Congress because we need that perspective — as with so many other points of view — but I don’t know many women with young children who could find a way to keep things running smoothly at home and with constituents.

5. No one wants to be Speaker of the House John Boehner’s tanning buddy.  OK, I just made that one up for fun.  But there is a LOT of extracurricular stuff elected officials have to do to know the right people and be heard and seen in the right places to position themselves for re-election.  Just as in the days of working at a large law firm, I know you can do OK in a job by showing up and working hard.  But unless you’re willing (and invited) to hang out over the occasional beer or golf game with the power players, you’re always going to be looked over for advancement opportunities.

Am I wrong?  Would you run for political office while you still have young children at home?

Image via Joanne Bamberger.  All rights reserved.

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7 Responses to “5 Reasons Women Don’t Run for Office”

  1. Pascale Says:

    ” More than one person has suggested I should run for office, but there is no way on God’s green earth I would ever do that.”

    This. Raising money, campaigning, the violent rhetoric, and a zillion other things keep me from running. My nest has emptied, so kids no longer factor. I plan to work in other ways.

    My question is why men not only wake up and feel qualified to run, but they wake up and feel qualified to be president! “Gee, I’m rich. I should run the country!” Never a thought to trying out Mayor or Governor or the Legislature first. We must make them stop!

  2. Michael Says:

    We need a greater balance of women and minorities in Congress and local government. In the last 20 years we have seen those numbers grow, hopefully that trend will continue. Perhaps we need greater flexibility for women with young children. In addition to breastfeeding rooms, what are some of the benefits available to female congressman with young children?

  3. Leah @ Beyer Beware Says:

    Love this post. Exact reasons I am not running for office anytime soon. Especially #5!!! I will just be a lobbyist pushing my agenda instead:)

  4. Colleen Says:

    I would add another point. For most women (those not living in the DC area) being elected to Congress would require either uprooting their families or spending large chunks of time away from them. That’s something women are generally reluctant to do.

  5. Katie @Pinke Post Says:

    Agree on every point. I can make more of a difference that greatly impacts my family and community by NOT running for office than running for office. Sad in some ways but very true. It’s healthier and safer for our family if I never run for office. I am with Leah. I’ll just lobby to push my agendas!

  6. Lucille Says:

    I ran twice for a local elected office — County School Board. I had high ideals that it was all about the children and about their educational needs. I found out it was instead all about the local political good ol’ boys, and being put under the screws to “be a team player” (meaning to do as I was told by those higher up on the political food chain). I nicely refused — and was promptly blackballed by all the local donors of import, meaning that the funding went to the candidates who promised to be cooperative with the powers that be. It also meant that influence was used to bias local voters against me: I was a “bitch,” I was “uncooperative” and “arrogant.” Women voters were the worst — they criticized my sleeveless shifts (“You can’t show bare arms!”), my makeup (“You can’t wear mascara!”) and my red jacket (“Oh, don’t we all wish we had fancy clothes like her!”) I won 25% of the vote the first time out, and less the second time — when I was also criticized for the fact that my son was at a County gifted school. I (a stay-home mom and successful activist) was criticized for caring more about my “political career” than my daughter (a straight-A student), who one dad said used a dirty word at school because I was “no longer engaged” with her upbringing for my own “selfish reaons”. Meanwhile, a half-dozen presidential-style debates were scheduled to showcase the other candidates, who used my heartfelt language on educational needs as boilerplate in their campaigns that focused on hot-button issues such as “I’m against guns in schools!” The campaigns for this low-paid local office (considered an entry-level to higher office) were non-stop, and I did miss time with my family — quiet evenings, private outings, and just peace in general. One of my opponents put a local radio shock-jock up to calling me at home and trying to entrap me into stating something that could be used against me on his radio show. A female friend of mine ran in an adjacent district, and won (her sole opponent was a good ol’ boy so old, they called him “6 days past dead”). She was frozen out of the local political scene and derided into the ground by all but the personnel in her schools who saw how hard she worked and how much she cared. But we always said, I’m the one who won — by losing the elections.

  7. Christine Stone Says:

    I second Lucille’s comment: Women voters were the worst! Additionally, when I ran for office and lost, I found that local news reporters were only focused on where my children went to school (a religious school and not the public schools) and not on my qualifications (former accountant and social justice advocate). And, I was even MORE surprised by the self-proclaimed “I only support female candidates” women: some actually called me and asked me not to run, others were aghast when I didn’t ask their permission to run for the particular seat and some women actively worked against me. You might have to add “other women” to #6 on your list. After my experience, I still have doubts about ever wanting to run for office again.

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