Gender equality in elected office hindered by animosity

By Katie Shatzer

“Sarah Palin doesn’t speak for me.”

As the 2010 campaign season heated up this summer, political action committee EMILY’s List — Early Money is Like Yeast — launched its own campaign against “Mama Grizzly,” Sarah Palin, with this simple statement via Twitter. Now that the vote is over and our country chatters about the implications of a new balance of partisan power in Congress, I remain concerned with a different balance of power.

Republicans now control one chamber of the legislature and Democrats the other, but Congress is far from achieving a balance of men and women in office.

Although women across the country contended for various political offices this year, women politicians from both parties spent their campaigns vying over which camp hailed the true “feminists” — a term they took to mean the best representatives for women.

Palin, the second female vice presidential candidate in our history, claims to empower women in politics. A leader in the conservative “Tea Party” movement that contributed to many Republican wins this election, Palin’s most notable “co-grizzlies” include Carly Fiorina and Christine O’Donnell. In California, Fiorina challenged incumbent Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer, who has been a member of Congress since 1983. Fiorina secured 43 percent of the vote.

In Delaware, O’Donnell also put up an election-day fight, winning 40 percent of the vote against Sen. Christopher Coons, also the incumbent Democrat.

Across the country, nearly a third of Tea Party candidates — which included men and women — won their races and notable success for a movement only a few years old.

At the other end of the political spectrum, EMILY’s List pours millions of dollars each election cycle into electing progressive, pro-choice, Democratic women to offices at all levels of government. Data available via the Center for Responsive Politics’ website,, shows the PAC’s total funds raised for the 2010 election cycle exceeded $24 million, as of mid-October. EMILY’s List, founded in 1985 by Ellen Malcolm, endorsed 32 House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates this year. Of those, 13 were elected to office.

As women — and also men conscious of and concerned with women’s issues — we must recognize and shame the fact that our political climate has polarized women politicians. Our government becomes a better representative of our nation as we inch closer to an equitable balance of power between men and women, but it does not become stronger when these few women politicians are pitted against                 one another.

Furthermore, our government and our society do not become wiser if we adopt and perpetuate the view that women politicians’ primary purpose is to represent the unique interests of women — and that they are incapable of representing men.

We must recognize the real challenges women face in the political arena simply because they are women. More importantly, however, we must free women politicians’ identities from their gender.

Who speaks for me in local, state and federal government? Politicians — men and women — who are experienced, who are educated, and who understand my home, my interests and my values.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.