She Should Run ... or should she?

Campaign asks public to write about women they want to run for public office. The result: Profiles of cheerful women with great organizational skills.

By Carol Lloyd

Published July 12, 2007 9:00PM (EDT)

How do you get gender parity in politics? Plead, ask and flatter more women into running for office. That's the logic behind She Should Run, a project launched last month by the Women's Campaign Forum, which recruits, trains and endorses pro-choice women for public office. According to WCF, women are elected at the same rate as men but far fewer women run for office in the first place. The upshot is that while women comprise more than 50 percent of the population, they hold less than 25 percent of all elected offices in the United States. Unlike men, they say, women need to be "asked." She Should Run hopes to discover 1,000 new women to run for public office by asking the public to nominate women they know.

Let's face it, if the campaign works it will be an awesome feat. A simple Web site generates some names of hitherto undiscovered powerhouses and -- voilà! -- an army of pro-choice female politicians launch new careers. Actually, it'll be a little more complicated than that -- WCF will gather more information about the potential candidate before contacting them to ask them to run for office. Of course, not every woman nominated will probably want to run and perhaps not every woman nominated will qualify for WCF's training and endorsement. But still, what's not to like?

But upon reading the first few posts of She Should Run's blog, my breakfast began roiling in my belly. One woman nominating her mother cited her "core decency, her cheerfulness, her strength, her intelligence and her organizational skills" as qualities that would make her an "amazing candidate for almost any elected position." Another woman -- also nominating her mother -- described the future candidate as an "awesome single mom" who "spends every waking moment dedicated to helping others instead of herself."

Now don't get me wrong -- these are admirable qualities and no doubt more decency and selflessness could alter the egotistical nature of politics. But shouldn't these women be ambitious as well as admirable? (No doubt some of them are, but the pull quotes of nominations painted long-suffering, good-natured mothers and friends rather than women with outstanding leadership qualities and perhaps veiled political aspirations.) I also couldn't help worrying that She Should Run could become a forum for an exalted sort of Mother's Day card or Friendship Fan Letter instead of a serious forum. Perhaps it's the use of first names -- Gloria, Linda, Esther -- do these women really need to be anonymous? The general characteristics -- strength, intelligence, compassion -- tend to water down the portraits. What about mentioning some professional qualifications? A Ph.D. earned or a million-dollar business launched? Can one imagine a Web site extolling the personal traits of Bob, Michael and Gary for public office ever being taken seriously?

Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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