5 Reasons Women Don’t Run for Political Office

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

  • I wish that I could say that I would run for national political office. I wish that I could say that I have the guts for that and that, in the end it would make my children stronger. However, those last two statements are a lie.

    Honestly, I think we could get much more done on a local level. The national stage is a circus right now. The policies that they argue, while extremely important, have little chance of surviving in this climate. Change that will affect more of our live exist locally, and in non-profits. So this is where I will concentrate my efforts.

  • I don’t run for office because I’m afraid of Mean Girls turned Vicious Women. The sexist boys I could handle and blow off. But, until Women get behind Women, the odds of women being able to withstand Junior High Girl Bullying Times a Billion to run for office are slim.

    Women – Show your Sisters some R.E.S.P.E.C.T, even if she’s on the other side of the aisle. Then you’ll see more women running for office.

  • Diane D’Angelo

    Agree with all these points (and thank you, Tracee Sioux), Here’s another one: not being able to run without accepting corporate donations. In all years of activism, I’ve seen perfectly wonderful people become plastic drones once they win a race. Their sincerity and, in many cases, their values, go right out the window because they are indebted to those who provided the big money needed to run for office. I want keep the ability to look myself in the mirror.

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