As a young woman involved in politics, the lack of female voices in political leadership is something that is glaringly obvious to me. So I was ecstatic to talk to Shanon Meade, a 32-year old mother and activist who has recently launched a PAC called More Women in Congress to rectify the gender imbalance on Capitol Hill.
Meade first started thinking seriously how to give women a stronger voice in the world ten years ago, when she was working as a teacher in China. There she saw how women had practically no voice at all when it came to their life decisions, never mind being involved in the public sector. Upon returning to the States Meade continued to notice the apathy of her generation, who seemed to not know what power they had to shape national politics. After seeing Steven Colbert’s segment on how easy it was to create a PAC, Meade and her husband decided creating their own organization to promote women in Congress would be a great way to get more involved in politics. “As long as we don’t take any action, things will stay the same,” Meade told me. And so More Women in Congress was born.
I took the time to pick Meade’s brain on how having more women in Congress would change Congress for the better. I think she has hit the nail on the head with her responses.
How do women differ in their leadership styles then men?
This may be anecdotal but it has been my experience that women in leadership are much more likely to be team builders and engaged listeners than lone gunmen, as is often the case with their male counterparts. Women tend to seek out a variety of opinions and consider the perspectives and needs of those who may be impacted by the decisions they make. It seems like many men begin from a perspective of “the greater good” which is formed by their own individual experience and, whether true or not, is very hard to influence. The Tea Party’s relentless mantra that “lesser people are ruining it for the rest of us” is a great example of this. Women tend to be more pragmatic in their approach and that, along with the willingness to listen, can add up to strong leadership.
Are there major differences in the policies female politicians propose than those supported by their male counterparts?
This is a very fun question because the area that comes to mind is comically obvious in politics today. Men in politics often use their platforms to publicize themselves and serve their own career objectives rather than serving the constituents who elected them to office. In the last month Junior Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has used the crisis in Syria to lambaste Obamacare and rehash conspiracy theories on Benghazi. Senator Steve King of Iowa redirected active debate on Immigration Reform into a mindless rant about teenage undocumented immigrants endlessly running drugs through America’s heartlands. These discussions don’t serve the public, but they definitely serve the ambitions of career politicians looking to score a soft landing in some well-funded “think tank” after their term is up. In the case of Jim DeMint, he didn’t even wait to serve the full term his constituents elected him to serve. He quit and accepted a job at the Heritage Foundation! And, having used his platform successfully to publicize himself, was rewarded handsomely for betraying a system which is created to better represent the public.
Whenever a man pulls this kind of stunt, it’s business as usual. But whenever a woman makes a policy decision that reflects poorly on her character for obvious personal gain, it’s surprising, almost shocking. Look at how much attention was paid to Sarah Palin leaving the Alaska Governorship after only half her term to run for Vice-President. Or when Michelle Bachmann used her position on the House Homeland Security Committee to claim that Islamic fundamentalists were infiltrating the government. Women are held to a higher standard of character when it comes to public opinion, I think simply because there are less examples of women breaking those unspoken laws of trust between the electorate and their representatives. The voters expect those leaders who begged for their vote to act as though they deserved it, and largely women are better at preserving that trust than are their male counterparts.
What are the major differences between Democratic women and Republican women?
Unfortunately there aren’t that many women Republicans being nominated, let alone elected, to either house of congress so it makes the job of seeking out examples of bipartisanship between women kind of hard to find. However, I see the differences between female Democrats and female Republicans being a lot less of an obstacle than they might appear on the surface. I’ve read about a Women’s Supper Club that brings women senators from both parties together monthly for dinner in one another’s homes. It seems we’d be hard pressed to find a similar example among male senators.
My opinion is that moderate politicians seeking office is the only way out of the gridlock that is killing the Legislative Branch. We are open to supporting moderate-conservative female candidates alongside the two Democrats we are already excited to support. Female republican candidates can have a hard time with early fundraising often facilitated by PACs because those that have been founded tend to lean further left, focusing on specific legislative issues. Because I see there being value in the debate and the diversification of ideas and perspectives, I don’t think we have to limit ourselves in that way.
What are some female campaigns coming up that you are excited about?
Well, we are excited to throw our support behind both Alison Grimes of Kentucky and Michelle Nunn of Georgia! It was also great to see Joni Ernst of Iowa decide to run, though it looks like an impossible road between her and the nomination. And the primary between Nancy Mace and Lindsey Graham in South Carolina is going to be a lot of fun to watch. If we can expand our donor base we are considering supporting Nancy Mace in that race. Three promising women candidates in the deep south is quite a sight for sore eyes.
Which existing female lawmakers out there are you excited about seeing run for higher office?
I would love to see Elizabeth Colbert Busch run again. She has such a passion for South Carolina, and I feel like she would serve them with every ounce of energy she has. And of course Alison Grimes, again, has done a great job serving Kentucky as their Secretary of State, and Michelle Nunn served the public as President of the Points Of Light foundation and Hands On Atlanta for years, so they both obviously have a heart for service.
What do you think can be done to inspire more women to run for political office?
Women know that history is against them when it comes to being treated equally. But women also need to be encouraged by all the evidence that historical norms are becoming less and less important. Public opinion is changing, and has changed. There is now a tremendous wave of support for women with passion and good ideas. More voters need to strongly consider the women running in their districts, and more women need to step up and put their hand up and say ‘I’ll serve’. Participation on the battlefield of ideas is working, and it is slowly leading to a more equally represented public in this national debate that we’re having.
I want passionate and considerate women candidates to have confidence that, although the tasks put them are difficult and the journey probably more challenging that it ought to be, we, the public, will stand by her… In asking for $5 donations, we hope to send the message that anyone can add their voice, regardless of their economic station. We’ve seen that women contribute less to political campaigns in general and we want to show them their dollars, however many they can contribute, are not insignificant.