Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Issue with Women

A few weeks ago, I commented on the obvious disparity in how women are viewed in politics after reading a comment made by President Obama in regards to sexism in America.  It takes only a few strokes of the keyboard to find a plethora of evidence that the gender gap is alive and well in our country, in business as well as politics.  The simple fact that the defenders of the current GOP presidential nominee's past inappropriate actions, and recent derogatory statements about women, use evidence of womanizing by Bill Clinton to cast a poor light on Hillary Clinton illustrates this prejudice.  We have seen this movie before, blaming the victims of rape and spousal abuse with the tired phrase, boys will be boys. Was there ever a reciprocal situation where a male candidate was held to account for his wife's indiscretions?  Or more pointedly, a woman candidate accused of repeated condescending attitudes towards men being defended by claims that the male candidate was just as guilty due to the infidelity of his spouse?

In particular, the electorate of my home state of Pennsylvania has shown a remarkable hesitancy to elect women, especially at the state and national levels.  Fortunately, there is a organization that is addressing this problem, Emerge Pennsylvania.

Along with Emerge groups in 15 other states, EmergePennsylvania identifies, trains and supports women to run for elected office.  While in its infancy (the first Emerge state chapter dates only to 2002), this organization has proven to be effective, having helped elect hundreds of qualified women to date.  But there is still much work to do, most specifically in addressing the reasons why the American electorate is so hesitant to choose women candidates over their male counterparts.

In business, experience, or lack therof, is often touted as the prime reason which creates a ceiling for a woman's ascension to the corporate boardroom.  And, of course, like all Catch 22 situations, women can't get experience a the higher levels of politics, if they aren't elected in the first place.  That is why it is so critical to create a network of women, both as candidates and advisers, to establish a pathway, upon which women can take that first step.  Emerge Pennsylvania is such a pathway.  

(Important note, here.  Experience is clearly not the driving quality in politics today.  There is a real undercurrent of distrust for "career" politicians, hence the fact that the 2016 presidential election is still too close to call despite the obvious advantage one candidate has over the other in terms of public service.  What is truly odd here, is that in all other areas where we seek a professional for advice or service, whether it be a doctor, lawyer, or business owner, we eschew the novice for the expert.  No one wants an intern doing their brain surgery, or a first year lawyer defending them in a murder trial.  Still ironic is that lawyers have only slightly better reputations than politicians, yet we still seek experienced and seasoned ones when our legal rights are at stake, yet often elect the outsider in a political contest).

But I digress.

Perhaps the real issue is that part and parcel to a woman candidate is the belief that a woman will focus on "woman's" issues, and that these issues and less critical that a man's.  Just like we associate the concept of masculinity with war, and security, and economics, do we then dismiss women candidates because we associate her with concepts like compassion, empathy, tenderness, even weakness?  While a woman may be called a cold bitch if she is a taskmaster at work, she can still achieve a higher level of success compared to a man considered effeminate in work or politics.    

The strange and twisted task being attempted by Emerge Pennsylvania, is to convince women that a career in public service is worthwhile, even commendable, that the American electorate is eager for public servants they can trust, a real advantage for women, and our concept of the qualities we associate with women, yet harden them to the reality that despite our desire for elected officials to do the best for the most of us, we frequently bash those in office when we only disagree with one opinion, forgetting that our Congresswomen represent all the people in their respective district or state.  Whereas the concept of compromise, surely a word one might associate with a woman more so than a man, is necessary to move government forward, it is now used as a cudgel to classify the candidates as, for us, or for them.  The veil of secrecy that once protected our elected officials from revelations of their private lives has been firmly replaced by the notion that everything is fodder for the public's right to know, especially when that bit of information casts the candidates in a light less that complimentary.  Perhaps women are better suited for this challenge, having endured a HIStory filled with apples in Eden, prostitutes among the Apostles, and temptresses of all races and religions.

America is about as diverse a country as there is, perhaps ever was.  Diversity is our strength, yet we seem married to the idea that only white men can govern well, despite the ironic fact that we trust those we elect less than any other profession, and most of them are white men.   All things being equal then, I generally choose women candidates over men, in the hope that infusing the political system with people more concerned with compromise that conflict, will result in a government more attuned to the needs of all its citizens.

And I am grateful for the existence of organizations like Emerge Pennsylvania for their work to shed some light into the dark halls of back room deals and good old boy politics.



No comments:

Post a Comment