Why women don’t run for political office


Aug. 15, 2011 Newsweek cover featuring Michele Bachmann. (NEWSWEEK)

Every word she wrote rings true.

But does that mean we’re less willing to endure — and dish out — personal attacks? Maybe.

Women are certainly well aware that, as Mitt Romney said, politics “ain’t the beanbag.”

But if fewer of us are willing to take and throw a punch, is that so horrible? In one way, yes — because the result is that we remain chronically underrepresented.

Have we ever seen a male presidential frontrunner looking deranged on the cover of Newsweek? Certainly not. Nor is there much discussion of any male candidate’s toilette, or cankles.

But I also think it would be hard to argue that Bill Clinton or Barack Obama were never subjected to the kind of over-the-top attacks that Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin survived.

Connie Morella, the well-respected former Republican congresswoman from Maryland, told Karen she sees political polarization as a major factor, driving away the many moderate women who might otherwise like to run. To which I say, you betcha.

For an 2007 book I wrote about women voters, I traveled to 20 states and talked to hundreds of women of all political stripes. And the thing I heard most often, in all regions of the country and from women of every age, race, tax bracket and political leaning, was that the toxicity of the process was such a turnoff that they could barely stand to tune in at all.

Thanks to the unlimited money pouring into that process — and funding negative ads — as a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, it’s only gotten worse.

We have a system that rewards, and maybe even requires candidates to take shots many of the women we’d most like to support want no part of.

What can those of us who do not sit on the Supreme Court do? Stop supporting the extremes and rewarding negative attacks, that’s what. We all play some part in the tone of the conversation, and as consumers, in defining what’s fair and unfair commentary.

I have to wonder if anyone who’d describe Michele Bachmann as the “queen of rage” ever heard her extremely conservative but calm, low-decibel pitch. When magazine covers like that stop selling, they’ll stop being printed.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.

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