Carol Anne Costa: American Politics Needs Women More Than Ever

Thursday, August 01, 2013


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A change in the status quo is long overdue to make the voices of female politicians heard.

I am a political junkie. I love politics and all the trimmings. But, what’s been troubling to me is the lack of women driven to run for office. And, the Wiener/Filner/McDonnell week that was just further motivates the need for this gender and politics dialogue. Some smart and savvy women with New England roots are analyzing the gaps and moving to action. A well-researched 2012 report compiled by former Brown Assistant Professor and 2006 RI candidate for Congressional District 2 (and currently Associate Professor of Government at American University) Jennifer L. Lawless, and Richard L. Fox, Associate Professor of Political Science at Loyola Marymount University, break down the data and formulate some of the possible reasons for the gap. These political scientists come up with the seven factors that impact the issue and as I see it, each point is analytical, but for me each is also a loud call to action. The seven reasons:

  • Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
  • Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.
  • Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
  • Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse.
  • Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
  • Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office, from anyone.
  • Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks averse than their male counterparts.


Women need to change the dynamic

If we unpack these reasons the evidence to contradict each one is replete and should help women be better motivators of each other and push ourselves to encourage and support women toward and in office. It is no secret that women have been fighting the battle for equality forever: in the workplace, in the classroom, in the boardroom, as advocates for our families and as part of organizations. We are used to it. My advice is to embrace that competitive spirit, and channel the mother bear that lives within. Women run houses, offices, mediate, arbitrate, collaborate, and nurture…all the time. Females are as qualified to serve in political office as any male. Risk averse, really? Most women would run through fire to help a child or a person in danger. Women are natural risk takers. For example, a report in the New York Times highlights the leaders in the hedge fund industry are, you guessed it, women. More women in the political field would for certain change the dynamic of campaigns from within, and women candidates can and will make that happen as more and more females run for office.

But, how?

Kate Coyne McCoy, a strong voice for women’s issues has also taken on the task of moving to action with her new American LeadHERship PAC, as well as her recent appearance on Current TV discussing the gender disparity and ways to move ahead, particularly in the election of Democratic female governors across the nation. I applaud Kate’s efforts and I am optimistic that this kind of activism will be a catalyst to close the wide spread gender divide. The numbers in 113th Congress speak volumes, although the gap is lessening in the Senate, with 20 of 50 US Senators being women. The House numbers are bleak, as only 78 of 435 members of the US House are female. However, it is the gubernatorial numbers that are downright discouraging, as a measly 5 of the 50 United States Governors are female. We remain 51% female 49% male country and we have yet to reflect that at every level of governance across the country, and women’s political gains have been slow to emerge. As friends, mothers, aunts and grandmothers it behooves us to empower our young girls, to let them know they belong at the levers of power to inform them they are the most effective advocates for fairness, good government and justice.

How the boys do it

Men form PACs and groups. They stimulate interest by tooting their own horns. They actively enlist grassroots involvement. And, they ask for money and financial support. Many times our male politicians have been told since middle school age with inspirations like “One day you must run for office.” or “You will make such a terrific politician.” This shapes our boys to be in the game at an early age. Male politicians possess confidence and swagger which often generates a cockiness that is currently on full display in the New York City Mayors race (pardon the pun). Tina Brown has a great piece up on The Daily Beast that speaks to this well documented narcissism and bad behavior by our male politicians. If this is not a clarion call to women, I don’t know what is!

Forging Ahead

If we take the analytics and the call to action, women can, should, and must run for office. What we know is when women hold office they craft laws that impact the lives of women and children, issues touching on childcare, education, violence against women, and civil and human rights. Women collaborate, multitask, and problem solve. If you are tired of the gridlock, brinksmanship and disrespectful politics of our time, it can only change when women step up. We women must move each other to the halls of influence. We must caucus, form PACS, organize, and get in the game. Please ladies, I ask you to encourage the smart activist women in your life, to run and then donate money and time to help them win. It’s what the boys do!


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Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager for the Johnston Housing Authority. Her work has been published in several local outlets including: GOLOCALPROV, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.


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