Panel ex­plores #MeToo and fe­male can­di­dates

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By LEANN SCHENKE lschenke@thekent­coun­tynews.com

— Given the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate cre­ated by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the #MeToo move­ment, a large num­ber of women are run­ning for of­fice, ac­cord­ing to a panel dis­cus­sion held March 22 at Wash­ing­ton Col­lege. Melissa Deck­man, po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment chair at the col­lege, mod­er­ated “Women on Fire: How Trump and the #MeToo Move­ment are Shap­ing the 2018 Elec­tions.” The panel in­cluded po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Kelly Dittmar, jour­nal­ist Vanessa Wil­liams and Mary­land gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date Kr­ish Vig­nara­jah. Deck­man said the Center for Amer­i­can Women in Of­fice at Rut­gers Univer­sity re­ports that 465 women are run­ning for Congress this year, which is a jump of 67 per­cent com­pared to 2016. Ad­di­tion­ally, last year 11 male leg­is­la­tors were re­placed by women in Vir­ginia and there is a record-break- ing num­ber of women run­ning for gov­er­nor this year. Dittmar is an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Rut­gers Univer­sity-Cam­den. She said that, in a sur­vey com­pleted by the Center for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics at the Ea­gle­ton In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics, women cited their mo­ti­va­tion to run as a de­sire to change pub­lic pol­icy, whereas men typ­i­cally re­spond with “I have a long­stand­ing de­sire to be in elected of­fice.” “The short­hand for that is women run for of­fice to do some­thing, men run for of­fice to be some­body,” Dittmar said. Dittmar said many of the women run­ning have worked out­side gov­ern­ment and now see it as not work­ing for them. The de­sire to see a change had then led them to run for of­fice. “I think there’s some­thing dif­fer­ent this year where women are say­ing, ‘ You know what? These in­sti­tu­tions are flawed and I have to be part of the so­lu­tion and I have to be part of the change,’” Dittmar said. Sim­i­larly, Wil­liams said the in­flux of women, and specif­i­cally women of color, run­ning can be at­trib­uted to anger. Wil­liams works as a jour­nal­ist for The Wash­ing­ton Post, where she fol­lows women of color who run for of­fice. Wil­liams said many of the women she’s talked to are al­ready very in­volved in their com­mu­ni­ties whether that be in their churches, as an ac­tivist, work­ing with chil­dren in schools or at rape cri­sis cen­ters.

“These women are in­cred­i­bly ac­tive and they are just re­ally afraid that the causes and the peo­ple that they care about are go­ing to be hurt in the cli­mate that has over­taken Wash­ing­ton and a lot of state­houses as well,” Wil­liams said. She said these fe­male can­di­dates are wor­ried about ed­u­ca­tion, par­tic­u­larly pub­lic schools, health care and crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form. Vig­nara­jah said her de­ci­sion to run for gov­er­nor was sim­i­larly fu­eled by emo­tion. She pre­vi­ously served as pol­icy di­rec­tor for first lady Michelle Obama and worked at the State Depart­ment as se­nior ad­vi­sor un­der sec­re­taries Hil­lary Clin­ton and John Kerry. Vig­nara­jah said a lot of non­par­ti­san is­sues she had worked on did not re­main in Trump’s White House. “We had a com­pla­cency on this as­sump­tion that we were good. I think Nov. 8 kind of awoke us from that. And part of what has been so ex­cit­ing is that I think it awoke a sleep­ing gi­ant,” Vig­nara­jah said. Wil­liams said she sees a lot of women have the pas­sion, but not the tech­ni­cal sup­port for their cam­paigns. Ad­di­tion­ally, there of­ten is a struc­tural com­po­nent to why women do not run. “There’s been a lot of older white men in of­fice for a long time and it’s so hard to get those op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Dittmar said. Dittmar said money also is an is­sue for any women seek­ing of­fice. In par­tic­u­lar, for women look­ing to run in the Repub­li­can Party, there is less or­ga­ni­za­tion to help pro­vide in­for­ma­tion on the process of run­ning and for fundrais­ing as­sis­tance. “We see em­pir­i­cally that it takes a lot of work to raise that same amount of money. And then there’s some re­search that demon­strates that it might ac­tu­ally cost more for women to run be­cause they have to do more work to prove that they are qual­i­fied to serve in this of­fice,” Dittmar said. How­ever, she said there is lit­tle proof that women and women of color are not as electable as white men, but there is a lot of re­main­ing reser­va­tion to back them. “They look at a sys­tem that has been male-dom­i­nated for so long and it looks like it’s hard to break in,” Dittmar said. Dittmar said the sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment cre­ated by the #MeToo move­ment may have con­trib­uted to women feel­ing as though they have a back­ing if they de­cide to run. She said while his­tor­i­cally, pol­i­tics have been male­dom­i­nated, there is lit­tle re­search to sug­gest women will not be sup­ported by vot­ers. Dittmar said Vig­nara­jah’s re­cently re­leased video ad­ver­tise­ment for her cam­paign, which fea­tures her breast­feed­ing her 9-mon­thold daugh­ter, re­flects the ap­peal­ing aim of be­ing au­then­tic to vot­ers. Vig­nara­jah said she de­cided to have the ad be her first be­cause it rep­re­sents her re­al­ity and why she’s run­ning. “I wanted this cam­paign to be very au­then­tic to me and part of why I am run­ning is be­cause I’m a woman and I’m a mom,” Vig­nara­jah said. Dittmar said there is a mis­con­cep­tion that male can­di­dates do not deal with gen­der in their cam­paigns. She cited Trump’s cam­paign, which was fo­cused on his mas­culin­ity. “We are never go­ing to get be­yond that lack of di­ver­sity in po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship if we con­tinue to re­in­force those norms,” Dittmar said.

PHOTO BY LEANN SCHENKE

Kelly Dittmar, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at Rut­gers Univer­sity–Cam­den, dis­cusses the in­flux of women run­ning for of­fice this year. Kr­ish Vig­nara­jah, who is a can­di­date for gov­er­nor in Mary­land, is pic­tured to the right.

PHOTO BY LEANN SCHENKE

Jour­nal­ist Vanessa Wil­liams, left, speaks about the struc­tural ob­sta­cles women of color face when run­ning for of­fice dur­ing Wash­ing­ton Col­lege’s panel on women in pol­i­tics dur­ing this year’s elec­tions. Seated next to her is po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Kelly Dittmar.

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