Years ago, my family would vacation at places that accommodated my passion for tennis. Resort guests would gather at posted times after sorting themselves by skill level — “advanced” first, “intermediate” an hour later and “beginner” an hour after that.
The same thing always happened.
Men with pathetic tennis form would somehow imagine themselves as advanced and show up for that first hour, while skilled women — some looking as if they had played competitively in high school or even college — would come for the intermediate timeslot.
Erin Forrest, executive director of Emerge Wisconsin, a group that trains Democratic women political candidates, laughed when I related my story.
“There are studies that bear that out,” she said. “Men will apply for a job if they meet six out of 10 qualifications and women won’t apply for that job until they’re at 10. It’s the way we’re socialized.” In the past, that translated to fewer women running for political office than one might expect.
That, as they say, was then.
Forrest said her group’s classes have tripled in size since President Trump’s election. Martha Laning, chair of the state Democratic Party, told me she has never seen anything like the current wave of interest by women in seeking office.
In Wisconsin and nationwide, many women share a visceral disdain for Trump, poster boy for the 2018 GOP. He has dispensed with the dog whistles of male entitlement and brought the bullhorn. The ripple effect is obvious — incumbent GOP Gov. Scott Walker is scrambling around the state pretending he’s been a friend of public education and affordable health care for the past eight years.
It appears that traditional reluctance by women has given way to fierce motivation, evidenced by mass protests, the growing #MeToo movement and the groundswell of outrage over gun violence after the latest school shooting.
Laning said in the past that “women had to be asked multiple times to run for office because they didn’t promote themselves, you know? I think they promoted other people, and I saw that as a chair a lot. I see really incredible women who are doing all the work to get other people elected, and I often look at them and say: ‘Well, why aren’t you running for office? I mean you’re the one doing all this.’ Sometimes they say, ‘Oh, no, not me,’ and I’m saying, ‘Why not you?’ But last year and this I think are getting a lot of women to say ‘How can I run?’ because they’re seeing what’s at risk and it’s propelling them.”
With the deadline to file for state legislative races not until June 1, there is more time for this tide — perhaps tidal wave — to grow.
Articles in the latest editions of The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek — not exactly your Mother Jones of progressive hopes and dreams — report on this national trend.
“Amid the rancor of American politics,” said the London-based Economist, “the large number of first-time women candidates the Democrats will field is unequivocally positive. … At the state and local levels, the picture is the same.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg Businessweek writer Joshua Green recounts in the magazine a scene from the preface to his book, “Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the National Uprising.” In it, he describes Bannon, chief architect of Trump’s populist uprising, figuratively bouncing off the walls with alarm watching Oprah Winfrey and other black-clad activists declaring war on Trump and the GOP at the Golden Globe Awards telecast last month.
“It’s a Cromwell moment,” Bannon said, invoking the name of Puritan Oliver Cromwell, a general who became Britain’s ruler during a brief interruption in the reign of monarchs. “It’s even more powerful than populism. It’s deeper. It’s primal. It’s elemental. The long black dresses and all that — this is the Puritans! It’s anti-patriarchy.”
Laning described what has changed in Wisconsin. It used to be, she said, that women — mothers especially — would say that they were just too busy to get deep into politics. “Having been a mother of three (grown) children and having been very involved in schools, I often would tell people that we all care about so many things, but there’s only so many hours in the day.
“So the issue is how do you get your thing to be a higher priority on those women’s lists, and right now the attacks by Donald Trump and the Republican Party on women have made that need to protect our children, our parents, our communities, a higher priority on a lot of women’s lists and they’re running for office to effect change.”
Evidence of the trend included the special election victory last month by Patty Schachtner as a Democratic state senator in northwestern Wisconsin. She won by 11 percentage points in a district Trump carried by 17 points in 2016. The state Democratic Party attributed her win to the weakness of Walker and GOP legislators, but one cannot discount the special magic of Trump.
In a recent Vanity Fair article on the wave of Democratic victories in Republican areas, many by women, one Democrat described the wave of sobering GOP defeats like this: “These races are like canaries in the coal mine. For Republicans, the canaries are dying.”
There could be happy irony in a Trump coattails-in-reverse impact on Walker, who for years has been trying to have it both ways. He governs to appeal to the far-right GOP presidential primary crowd and then turns all touchy-feely during the Wisconsin general election season.
Wouldn’t it be something if the nightmarish 2016 Trump election reverberated two years later in Wisconsin by sweeping Walker and other male Republicans with their “Mad Men”-era sensibilities out of office?
So, a last word from Forrest, head of the training group, after she had cited studies showing women elected officials are more likely than men to be effective on issues of safety, health and education.
“I mean, let’s just give it a try, right?” she laughed, at the prospect of a wave of women voters lifting women candidates. “In this country, we’ve had 200 years the other way. Let’s just try it this way and see what happens.”
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