Specs in the City: Mayor’s Race Leave Women Playing Catch-Up

In 1926, Seattle made a progressive move.

That year, Bertha Landes became the first female mayor of a major American city. But, while it was a big move then, electing a female for mayor shouldn’t be an irregular occurrence by today’s standards. But it is.

In the 85 years since Landes held office, Seattle has not had another woman hold that position. At the time, Landes’s success felt like a new era for women, but—though several women have run—none have made it far enough to have their names on the general-election ballot.

And the Seattle mayoral race isn’t the only place that this sort of gender gap is occurring. In nationwide political offices, women are consistently ranked in lower positions. Though strong female figures like Hillary Clinton have helped to increase girl power in the White House, the highest positions of President and Vice President have yet to be filled by women.

Women only hold 18 percent of the seats in Congress, and in state legislatures that number is slightly higher at 24 percent, according to an article in the Kitsap Sun.

I’m all for President Obama, and Joe Biden has a pretty winning smile, but, ladies, let’s face it. Things would go a whole lot differently if we were calling the shots.

Would the government shutdown still have happened? Possibly.

Research through a 2012 study for the Women & Politics Institute at American University have found that the continued gender gap in political success is largely due to ambition rather than skill. This doesn’t mean women lack ambition, but it does signify that we have, in a way, been trained to see ourselves as under qualified when it comes to high-ranking positions.

The study surveyed 4,000 people in fields that commonly produce political candidates such as lawyers, business leaders and activists.
“Women who don’t think they’re qualified don’t think about running for office. Men who don’t think they’re qualified still think about running for office,” said Jennifer Lawless, co-author of the study and professor at American University.

The study found that this discouragement or lack of confidence comes from the power and gender struggles that women already in political office are facing.

Lawless is basically saying that men are more likely to barrel confidently into a position they can’t really do, while over qualified women watch on the sidelines.

This can’t be good.

The way I see it there are three solutions:

  • First, everyone go run for mayor, or another political office position. If all the women in Seattle ran against Mike McGinn, we would surely get a few on the general-election ballot. This one might be a little extreme. But at least we could get a point across, right?
  • Second, nobody run for any political office. If we just let the men fight it out, we can wait until they become exhausted from their shutdowns and debates. And that’s where we come in. Again, probably a little extreme, but hey—it’ll be a good show.
  • Third, maybe we can actually work toward a little something called gender equality. How novel.
  • 85 years ago, Seattle made a progressive move in having our first female mayor, but there is no reason that shouldn’t have been happening consistently since then. If women are qualified but intimidated from running for political office, we need to change that.

    Research has shown that when women do run, they do just as well as men in terms of fundraising and electoral results. And political knowledge and capability. So we need to get out there and make it happen.