Women are running for office in record numbers in 2012. Claire Dunphy just announced for city council in her suburban Los Angeles enclave. Leslie Knope is running for mayor in Pawnee, Indiana, and she already has a web site to prove it. Sue Sylvester’s Ohio congressional run is well under way. And Diane Lockhart is testing the waters for her own run in Chicago.
Soon Julia Louis-Dreyfus, on HBO’s VEEP, will join Julie Bowen of Modern Family, Amy Poehler on Parks and Recreation, Jane Lynch on Glee, and Christine Baranski on the Good Wife with her own portrayal of a former senator who finds that being vice president is nothing like she expected.
Yes, it’s a record year for the women of television. The writers of these shows are putting their faith in women to fix potholes, root out corruption, improve health care, and above all, make good TV. But these women can’t actually revive the economy, fix our schools, or restore our faith in government.
Whether or not these women win their elections, they’ve taken the most important step to closing the political gender gap: declaring a candidacy. Research shows that when women run for office, they win at the same rate as men do. The problem is that women don’t run nearly as often. In recent years, the number of women in Congress has reached only 17 percent, while the number of women in state legislatures declined by 80 seats in the last election.
It’s time to reverse the trend, in real life as well as on television. The 2012 Project is a national, nonpartisan campaign aiming to inspire record numbers of real-life women to run for state legislative and congressional office in next year’s real-life election. 2012 is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for women to increase their numbers in office. Every congressional and legislative district in the country is now being redrawn based on the 2010 census. Redistricting creates more open seats, where women have a better chance of winning. Of the all-time high of 24 new women elected to the House in 1992, 22 of them won open seats.
Why women? Research shows that once in office, women can change the tone of the debate. Their leadership styles tend to emphasize collaboration and consensus. Women legislators have made a significant difference on a wide range of issues, just by being present in at the table.
It’s time for real women to follow in the footsteps of their fictional counterparts. When Leslie Knope was asked to run for mayor, she proclaimed that she had been dreaming of the moment that someone would ask. The 2012 Project is now asking for women from every state, every party, and every career to step up and run. Why not you?
Guest contributor Robin Pam is a writer, editor, and start-upper in San Francisco. She worked at the Center for American Progress and on the Hill after graduating from Stanford, and currently calls San Francisco home. You can follow her on Twitter @robinpam.