“You’re the hottest woman [at our office].” “Good thing you’re working out, because you wouldn’t want to get porky.” “Look at that face!” “She’s the best looking attorney general in the country.” “I like my girls chubby.” “What are your measurements?” “I’m going to treat you like a lady … now act like one.” Surprisingly, none of these are Tinder pick-up lines inspired by the “negging” strategy promoted by so-called “pick-up artists”. These are comments made about women in politics by their colleagues and opponents. The office in that first line? It’s the United States Senate.
At Running Start, we train young women to run for office and challenge them to change how we see women leaders with our #ILookLikeAPolitician social media campaign. With each #ILookLikeAPolitician post, they make the case that all young women look like leaders. And in our entry to the Project for Awesome video contest, we reached new audiences with this critical message.
But we can’t make this culture shift alone.
Because even though we equip the young women we train with the skills and confidence they need to defy stereotypes and expectations, it will take a larger movement to create a world that accepts and celebrates what they have to offer. In fact, some of our alums have faced incredibly inappropriate comments when they attain public office: “Hey, new girl.” “You look so young, you could be a teenager.” “You’re cute!” “I’d love to see nude photos of you.” And this isn’t idle chatter: research shows that when you talk about the appearance of a woman in politics, even positively, you reduce voter’s confidence in her qualifications.
Young women are listening, and some of them have told us that the prospect of being the object of remarks like these discourages them from pursuing political leadership. And many of the 10,000+ young women we’ve trained share that they didn’t see themselves as leaders before, in large part because so many of the political leaders they see around them don’t look like them. About half of our participants and trainers are women of color, who see even fewer role models representing them in politics. This is the classic “you can’t be what you can’t see” problem (as famously described by founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, and echoed by founder of The White House Project, Marie Wilson). Our #ILookLikeAPolitician campaign counteracts both the scarcity of existing role models and the sexism that turns women away from leading in politics. We’re harnessing the power of social media to shift the leadership narrative.
At the end of last year, Running Start took this effort to the next level by participating in the Project for Awesome, a video contest that raises money for charities. We released a video explaining the importance of what we do and we harnessed our network of alums and supporters to share it and vote for us so that we could compete for a grant. Although we didn’t win a grant, together, we accomplished an important goal. We added to the growing chorus of voices encouraging young women to run for office, which helps inspire more young women to get into politics and makes more people around them receptive to it. It’s exciting to know so many people supported our contest entry — knowing that we have so many backers renews our commitment to continue building the pipeline. There are young women who are hungry for the skills training and mentorship we offer, and we’re ready for them.
Please keep sharing our video and make videos of your own! Make a video telling us why you look like a politician and post it using #ILookLikeAPolitician. All of us together can make a stand for young women: our video and yours will declare that we believe in their power and abilities.
Running Start Communications Director Sara Blanco is a women’s empowerment advocate. She graduated from Swarthmore in 2012, where she studied English literature and gender and sexuality studies, and joined Running Start soon after. Currently pursuing a master of public policy at the George Washington University, Sara co-chairs their Women’s Leadership Fellows Program after participating last year. Sara lives in her hometown, Arlington, Virginia. Find her on twitter @sarablancosays.