There are many ways to degrade, dehumanize, and dispirit a woman who is seeking to serve her community. When I ran for public office against a white, conservative incumbent who was a former cop, I was advised to downplay where I went to college (Yale) and play up the number of years I had lived in the neighborhood (12 years). Some people that did not endorse me later confided that they made their decisions because they knew I would not retaliate against them if I won, but my opponent would.
At the time, I felt powerless to respond to the blatant misogyny and racism. Now I am in the business of teaching women how to run for public office, which will lead to gender parity in our elected offices and, I believe, ultimately save our democracy.
Our government needs women. Studies and anecdotal evidence show that women lead differently than men and tend to be more collaborative and more civil. More often, women work across the partisan aisle and they pass policies that are more supportive of families and children.
In the book “What Americans Know About Politics and Why It Matters,” the authors argue that people who know the rules, know the players, and know how to play the game are the people who most benefit from our democracy.
That helps to explain why women make up 50.8 percent of the total population in the U.S., but hold only 23.7 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress.
There are three additional reasons why there is a lack of gender parity in our political system. Firstly, it is money. Money continues to permeate American politics, and since the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, the amount of money pouring into and swaying our democracy has only gotten more substantial. In such an environment, those with the most money wield the most influence over who is deemed “politically viable” and most often, it is not a woman of color, or a single mom, or a young woman from a rural community.
Secondly, it is time. Women continue to do more than their fair share of housework and child rearing in this country. This makes it hard to schedule time to talk to voters or call donors.
Lastly, many women are still raised to be deferential, humble, and quiet. They are taught to not be ambitious, boastful, or smart. Yet those are the very skills that are needed to successfully campaign.
That is why I now work as chief program office for Vote Run Lead. My colleagues and I train women to run for public office and to win. We encourage women to run as they are because we believe they are enough.
When women attend a training, they find a community made up of other smart, ambitious, and thoughtful women who care deeply about their communities and are compelled to run for public office.
Women are hungry for training that will teach them hard skills and how to play the political game, including how to craft and deliver a stump speech, recruit volunteers, cut turf for a door knock, raise money, or develop a campaign slogan using a message box.
With the onset of the global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, this electoral cycle has been a whirlwind. But amidst this storm, we are also seeing a remarkable number of women stepping up and declaring their candidacy. And come November 3, they will be the balm to a democracy in flames.
Pakou Hang (she/her) ran the successful 2002 Eastsiders for Mee Moua campaign, which elected the first Hmong American to a state legislature in Hmong and U.S. history. Pakou also served as the Deputy Political Director to Senator Paul Wellstone’s 2002 re-election campaign. She currently serves as the Chief Program Officer for Vote Run Lead.