Should Women Candidates Avoid Discussions on Gender?

By Rebecca Freedholm, WCF Communications Fellow

August 18, 2010

Cross post from WCF Blog

Aaron Guerrero from The Daily Caller believes that Republican women candidates may not ultimately have the banner electoral year they had hoped for. Citing the recent primary losses of Karen Handel in Georgia and Jane Norton in Colorado, Guerrero theorizes that some GOP women’s “heavy emphasis on gender” may thwart their endeavors to reach public office.

The surge of Republican women contending for their party’s nomination in this election cycle has led many to deem 2010 “The Year of the GOP Woman.” Indeed, the GOP has seen an impressive increase in the number of female candidates competing in this year’s primary elections: There are 14 female Republicans running for seats in the U.S. Senate and 94 striving for positions in the House (numbers that more than double those from 2008).

Women are vastly underrepresented in all levels of public office, so this recent rise in female political participation is an exciting and encouraging sign of change. Why, then, does Guerrero instruct these GOP women to shy away from “discussions on gender?”

“Other candidates should stick to the formula that has worked for other women within the GOP. Talk up your professional background or unique personal history, portray yourself as a political outsider, and above all else, largely avoid discussions on gender.”

Guerrero fails to recognize that discussions on a female candidate’s personal history, professional background, and identity as a political outsider can never fully exclude “discussions on gender.” As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg once said, “There are life experiences a woman has that come from growing up in a woman’s body that men don’t have.”

The fact that women have unique life experiences makes it imperative that we fight to achieve gender parity in our political system. These experiences inform women differently and inevitably drive them to assume different perspectives and modes of leadership. Furthermore, research reveals that women’s unique leadership style has a positive influence on decision-making across many fields.

Our government cannot adequately represent all citizens if it doesn’t include women’s diverse perspectives in its legislative process. Considering the lack of female representation—especially Republican female representation—that our government is currently experiencing, it would seem more apt to instruct women candidates to emphasize discussions on gender rather than to obscure them.

The only examples (and there are only two of them) of campaigns impeded by discussions of gender that Guererro offers are those which focused on stereotypical artifacts of femininity—lipstick, purses, and high heels. And in the case of Jane Norton, the focus on superficial aspects of gender identity was instigated by an appalling sexist comment made by her opponent, who claimed that he was more qualified than Norton because he did not wear high heels.

If women candidates fall short in this year’s election cycle, it may likely be because the majority of Americans fail to realize that gender parity in public office is a substantive issue.

Whether we resort to antiquated stereotypes or apathetically maintain that gender is a non-issue in politics, we are not doing enough to ensure that all American people are adequately represented and served by our political system.

I deeply hope that this record year in women candidacy is only the beginning of women’s increased political participation.

Published by Kate McCarthy on 08/30/2010

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