Are we addicted to male leaders? I ask this because Maryland is supposed to be one of the most progressive states in the country, yet we have been unable to elect a female member of Congress for the past two election cycles. In recent years, Maryland has had no more than one female each in the House and Senate simultaneously, meaning our 10-member delegation has been 80 percent to 100 percent male.
Let’s focus on the House. We have eight representatives — one Republican and seven Democrats. In the 2022 election cycle, all will have the power of incumbency.
If you are unsure of the significance of that, consider the observation of Open Secrets: “Few things in life are more predictable than the chances of an incumbent member of The US House of Representatives winning reelection. With wide name recognition, usually an insurmountable advantage in campaign cash, House incumbents typically have little trouble holding onto their seats.”
So if you are worried like I am that Maryland women will extend our 0-8 record for at least another two-year campaign cycle, you should be. Our entire all-male Maryland House delegation will be running as incumbents in 2022.
One hundred years after women won the hard-fought right to vote, we are faced with the reality that unless we make some drastic changes, equal representation for us in Congress will continue to elude women in our disproportionately Democratic state.
It’s not that women don’t run or challenge the status quo, it’s that they don’t get the same level of support — even in a state where female voters make up 55 percent of the electorate.
Our unions do not give women the same money as their male counterparts. This support of male candidates matters a great deal. Unions are the largest, most well-funded special interest groups in our state. They have a lot of money and mobilize their members to volunteer and vote. Unions are a major resource during election cycles. They provide polling support, endorsements and funding. A review of where unions have targeted their efforts shows clearly that it is not toward female candidates.
So, yes, I’m beginning to think that despite being a progressive, overwhelmingly Democratic state, we have an addiction to male leaders. Maybe we should get involved in a 12-step program, like Alcoholics Anonymous, because we seem powerless to kick this habit.
I did not just awaken to this. I’ve felt this way for the past two election cycles. I have watched and witnessed as both women and men say, “I would vote for a woman, but not that woman.” “She’s too progressive.”“She’s not progressive enough.” Blah, blah, blah.
Female candidates also are accused of being a lot of other things, almost always preceded by “too.” She’s “too aggressive” or “too ambitious” or “too angry,” criticism almost no one levels at male candidates.
If I had a quarter for every person who said, “I will not vote for a woman just because she is a woman,” I could do some serious laundry! Of course, we should vote for the best all-around candidate. The reality is in a state of more than 6 million people, where more than 51 percent of residents are female, we shouldn’t have a problem electing women if fundraising, endorsements and other conditions were equal and we actually voted for them.
Some of the most active and influential women’s groups do not endorse candidates because of the nonpolitical nature of their organizations. Think the League of Women Voters or parent-teacher associations, which are primarily made up of mothers. Then there are the more political women’s groups, which often don’t endorse in the primary because they don’t want to pit members of the same party against each other. This is unfortunate because it dilutes our impact. Emily’s List, a national pro-choice organization, does not come in early with significant dollars in Maryland for women candidates because of the incumbency factor. This creates yet another hurdle for even the smartest, strongest and most courageous women candidates.
Given this uphill battle, what can we do when a woman throws her hat in the ring?
There is a saying in 12-step programs: “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” If women want equal representation, fair pay and supportive workplaces, better child-care options, diminished violence against women and more progressive laws overall, we have to start voting for women. Let me say that again in case you missed it: We must start recruiting more women candidates and voting for them.
We can be progressive, say that we support women and espouse all of the appropriate rhetoric. We can hold unions accountable and challenge them to support women. But the biggest actions we need to take are to recruit and then start voting for women. If we don’t, nothing will change. Knowing something intellectually alone won’t change the way we behave. We have to take action.
What can you do today? Here’s what I’m doing. I’m joining a woman’s campaign; in fact, I have already donated to Heather Mizeur, who is running for the U.S. House in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District against six-term incumbent Andy Harris (R). Early money helps female candidates enormously. I’m not going to wait to see or make excuses or hold women to some impossible standard that male candidates never have to meet.
Pick two things you agree on with the candidate. For me, it’s economic development and fair pay. For you, it might be education and transportation. No candidate — male or female — is going to be perfect. Commit to voting for that woman because equal representation matters. Modeling female leaders for our daughters matters. And, statistically, female members of Congress bring back more money to their states.
Yes, you read that correctly. According to Vox Media, “Political science research has found over and over again women legislators are likely to introduce legislation that specifically benefits women, they are better at bringing funding back to their home districts, and to put it bluntly, they get more done. A woman legislator on average passed twice as many bills as a male legislator in recent sessions of Congress.”
Tell 10 friends what you are doing and why. Call your friends and family out. My father and I had heated debates in the last election cycle. We still love each other and are friends, but this election cycle he said he is going to financially support and vote for more women. I’m sure of it!
Here are additional suggestions on how to back a female candidate:
1. Volunteer to phone-bank, door-knock or literature-drop for her.
2. Work a poll in the primary for her.
3. Promote her on your social media.
4. Have a coffee for her in your neighborhood.
The most important things are to vote for women, turn out the vote for women and encourage more people to vote for the candidate you have chosen. Remember: Self-knowledge avails us nothing unless we take action. We can break this cycle by intentionally voting for more women.