So you want to run for office in Maryland? Just do it.

There are many reasons why I love living in Maryland, and the state’s Democratic politics is one of them. If you’re a progressive, how can you not love it? In 2012, we affirmed marriage equality, passed our version of the Dream Act and banned arsenic in agriculture, to name a few high-profile accomplishments. Our sights are now set on repealing the death penalty this year.

But there’s one more reason why Maryland politics is exciting to follow – its female leaders, present and future. I fully realized this when I attended a women’s Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training, hosted by the Democratic Women’s PAC of Maryland and the Young Democrats of Maryland’s Women Caucus on Jan. 12. The daylong conference was designed to give Democratic women the tools, tips and strategies to run for local and state-wide offices, from campaign 101 to fundraising, online strategies, field operations and public speaking.

One look around the packed lecture hall at UMBC, and it was clear that the room was full of women of different ages, races and backgrounds from across the state. More important was the enthusiasm, tone and energy of the conference. Women (elected to public office or not) were helping other women by respectfully sharing their knowledge and experiences in the field and doing so with a good dose of humor and encouragement. Rep. Donna Edwards (D), Delegates Susan Lee, Ariana Kelly, Mary Washington; Montgomery County Councilwoman Valerie Ervin and Cambridge Mayor Victoria Jackson-Stanley were some of the elected women who offered advice and encouraged several women eyeing public office to keep in touch after the conference.

Underlying this energy was a feeling of working together, not against one another, to increase the number of women in public office in Maryland. The supportive attitude and energy of women mentoring women for leadership positions is what will make the difference in increasing our numbers in statewide and Congressional offices. As women, we have a responsibility to grow new political leadership networks on local, state and federal levels, or else we won’t be heard.

Numbers from the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers University gives us an idea of where Maryland is in terms of female representation and how far it still has to go. According to the Center for American Women in Politics, Maryland ranks 8th among state legislatures for the proportion of women. Out of 188 legislators in the Maryland House and Senate, only 57 are women. Women are 30 percent of the state legislature. We have one female U.S. Senator (Barbara Mikulski), one Congresswoman (Rep. Donna Edwards), and no women in executive positions. (This could change if Del. Heather Mizeur, a strong feminist, runs for governor and wins!)

Although Maryland’s numbers are better than women’s representation in the U.S. House and Senate (18 percent), I think we can do better and set an example for the rest of the country. The Candidate, Campaign & Leadership Training is a step in the right direction and I’m already keeping an eye on a few women here in Frederick County who could run for office. I hope they do. Ultimately, I want to see Maryland women make up 50 percent of the state legislature and more. If Saturday’s training was any indication, I’d say that we can do it.

Advertisements

“Having it all” without Feminism

The tired, old question, “Can women have it all?” that Anne-Marie Slaughter resurrected in The Atlantic last month isn’t going away now that Yahoo! tapped pregnant Google exec Marissa Mayer to be its CEO. Since the news broke this week, some writers have newly considered Mayer’s rise to the top in relation to Slaughter’s answer to the question (no, women can’t have it all).

I’ve read Slaughter’s cover story in The Atlantic and I’m happy she raised thoughtful, critical solutions to the problem, despite the fact that she doesn’t fully propose to fundamentally dismantle the male-centric, heterosexist models of what work and family means. And I’m happy to see Mayer take the helm of Yahoo! and increase the number of women-CEOs of Fortune 500 companies from 19 to 20.

What concerns me is the Mayer’s dismissive, narrow and mistaken views of what feminism is and who feminists are. In a short clip from the PBS-AOL series “Makers,” Mayer said this about her relationship to feminism:

I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I certainly believe in equal rights, I believe that women are just as capable, if not more so in a lot of different dimensions, but I don’t, I think have, sort of, the militant drive and the sort of, the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. And I think it’s too bad, but I do think that feminism has become in many ways a more negative word. You know, there are amazing opportunities all over the world for women, and I think that there is more good that comes out of positive energy around that than comes out of negative energy.

Mayer doesn’t have to label herself a feminist, although it’s clear from her words that she believes in women’s equality and capabilities. Her unsettling and damaging message is the stereotypical image of the angry, militant feminist who walks around with an attitude and just can’t get over it. If only those angry feminists would stop being so negative and get out of their own way, they’d have so many opportunities!

What Mayer doesn’t realize is that it was those feminists with “the chip on the shoulder” and the “militant drive” who helped create those “amazing opportunities all over the world for women.” Whether she intended to or not, Mayer’s message in the video is that feminism is irrelevant to being a successful woman like her. Don’t agitate for change and equality, ladies – just take advantage of all the great opportunities out there!

This anti-feminist advice fits in perfectly with the conundrum that Fbomb.org editor Julie Zeilinger describes in her piece, “Why Millennial Women Do Not Want to Lead.” Zeilinger states that girls and young women face impossibly high achievement standards in all areas of their life (work, education, relationships) and a culture that simultaneously tells them they can do anything, but also that they’re not enough. Zeilinger believes that these unrealistic standards of perfection snuff out Millennial women’s desire to lead because young women don’t think they’re enough to lead.

Likewise, Mayer’s dismissive and disparaging remarks about the relationship between feminism and women’s leadership and what it really takes for women to lead buttresses this leadership gap among Millennial women. In Mayer’s view, if women take advantage of opportunities (setting even higher standards of achievement) and ignore feminism (which equips girls and women to fight against cultural messages that they’re not beautiful, smart or capable enough), then that’s all they need to achieve and “have it all.” Not exactly. A vibrant feminist movement, in all its variations, is needed to help propel and empower women and girls into leadership positions, sustain them and nurture the next generation of female leaders. There is already so much that is stacked against girls and women that feminism provides a confident voice that tells us we’re enough as we are and aims toward a more equitable future. Hearing remarks like Mayer’s is suicidal, counter productive and damaging to women’s already fragile sense of their leadership capabilities. You certainly don’t have to label yourself a feminist if you don’t want to. But please, please get a clue and give credit to where credit is due.

To hear Anne-Marie Slaughter speak recently about her cover story and the news about Marissa Mayer, check out her appearance on Meet the Press’ PRESS Pass

 

Ha! So great. From Texts from Hillary, on Tumblr.