When my mother was 11 years old, she constructed and posted a “McGovern for President” sign in her front yard, completely of her own volition.
I don’t know many 11 year olds who would think of doing something like this, never mind caring that much about politics. My mom was aware of the power of politics and the social change raging in the 60s and 70s, and she knew it was important to be a part of it. Even at a young age, she felt that she COULD be a part of it. Although she may have been one of the only girls to make her own campaign sign, I doubt she was the only girl feeling empowered by the changes occurring at that time in our history
On November 5, my mother was elected to the city council in my hometown, Bristol, CT, the place where she was also born and raised. My mom thought about running for office for various reasons, including her love and knowledge of our town and its citizens, knowledge of law and politics and her desire to be a public servant. After participating in a democratic women’s group in town that originated as a way to get more women involved in politics there, she decided to be a representative of the women of our town and run for office.
My mother had the freedom to post her own McGovern sign in the 1970s, felt empowered to express her opinion, pursue whatever career path she wanted, and has taken on a leadership role in her own community. She also thought she would see a woman president well before her 50th birthday in this country – and still has not.
The city council that my mother just got elected to, and the entire city government for that matter, is still majority men. My mother is 1 of 2 women on the council of 6 she will serve on.
The annual Global Gender Gap Report ranks gender equity of 136 counties through comparing four variables: educational attainment, health and survival, economic participation and opportunity, and political empowerment. The 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranks the US 23rd out of 136 countries overall, but 60th in political empowerment. The US is ranked first in educational attainment, 6th in economic opportunity, and 33rd in health and survival. Improving our political rank would make huge strides for our overall gender equity.
The fact that the US political system is still run by a majority of men sheds light on the status of women in our country, and that we are not where we should be. This country is still far from equal representation of men and women in politics, despite the fact that the fight for equality started well before my mom posted her McGovern sign.
There is a disconnect between women being told that equal opportunity exists, versus real, meaningful participation and access to politics and decision making. I think this is a current dilemma in the fight for gender equity in the US. We can tell women they are equal under the law, but making gender equity into a concrete reality takes generations; generations of removing stigma, deep-rooted beliefs about traditional gender roles and social “norms”, and generations of taking action! While laws and policies are crucial, it is also necessary to change mindsets and empower women.
The women who serve as politicians in this country are an inspiration to me, but I must ask: Where are the rest of us?
What do you think keeps women out of politics in the US?
For every girl who has a desire to be involved in public service, I hope you feel empowered to take action in the politics of our towns and cities, and know you are also taking part in closing the gender gap in your country and the world.
Featured image: Democratic Women of the House. Image courtesy of Flickr user ffaalumni.