This story was written by Sarah Haas, Iowa State Daily
DES MOINES Iowa, Mississippi, Delaware and Vermont are the only states to never elect a woman to Congress.Five women met Friday to discuss the reasons behind Iowas ranking and how communities can encourage women to run for office.
Iowapolitics.com, an independent, nonpartisan news Web site, hosted the program at Drake Universitys Levitt Hall.The panel included Mary Kramer, former U.S. ambassador and president of the Iowa Senate; Mariannette Miller-Meeks, recent congressional candidate in the second district; Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics; Becky Greenwald, recent congressional candidate in the fourth district; and Jo Ann Zimmerman, former lieutenant governor and president of the Iowa Senate.Two of the panelists recently lost elections to male incumbent candidates, but said they did not perceive any discrimination during their campaigns and do not attribute their losses on sexism.I was not running as a woman candidate, I was a candidate who happened to be a woman, Greenwald said.Yet Bystrom, who has researched the role of gender in politics, said inequalities exist between men and women running for public office, both nationally and locally. She said the differences in the basic natures of men and women as well as Iowas demographics contribute to the small showing of women in politics.Men wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, I can be governor, and women need to be asked, Bystrom said.Cultural studies have shed light on demographic trends in states that tend to elect more women.They tend to be growing states, growing in population. They tend to be more ideologically liberal, and were really more moderate. They tend to have a growing younger population, and ours is older. They tend to be more urban than rural, so we have a lot of factors going against us that we really cant do anything about, Bystrom said.Kramer, who said she began considering running for office only after being recruited by fellow women, said seeking the opportunity is the real issue.The most opportune time is when there is no incumbent, and when you are in a position when you have raised enough money to get your message out there almost immediately, Kramer said.Bystrom said 34 women are in the Iowa legislature, the highest number in Iowas history, which has remained unchanged over the past three elections. Yet Iowas percentage of women in state legislatures ranks 23rd in the nation.The fact of the matter is that we need to get more women to run for office in Iowa. There have been only 17 women running for congress in 13 races, only two of them have run in open-seat races, Bystrom said.Bystrom said women are discouraged from running because of their protective, nurturing ways, as evidenced by the decision many women make to run for office only after their children are grown.During Zimmermans first run for office in 1987, she said she was asked by a man who would keep the books while she was away working. Bystrom said she often receives calls from women politicians who are asked and are currently taking care of their children while spending so much time campaigning or working.The media coverage of women was also discussed by the panelists, all of whom agreed that Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., received more negative attention than their male counterparts.When I went out in my pantsuits through every blizzard, I was worried if I would be compared to Hillary Clinton because Im on the opposite side, and whether or not that would offend some males. Can I wear pink? Can I not wear pink? Do I have to be in power colors? Miller-Meeks said.She said women especially were critical of both candidates.We as women can be extraordinarily critical, and if we want women to run and we want them to either self-recruit or we want to recruit them, then we need to start being a little bit fairer to our sx, Miller-Meeks said.The panelists agreed that womens voices in politics at any level play a vital role.Were consensus builders. Were collaborators. We listen. Those talents, and that doesnt mean men dont have them, but I think that you find that more in women, Miller-Meeks said.