Women Rule (but not at the presidential level)

Women Rule. That’s true at DC-based nonprofits (like Running Start) and at media companies like POLITICO. But, it’s not true at the presidential level — in business, college student governments, or national capitols.

In this week’s Women Rule podcast, POLITICO’s editors Margaret Slattery and Elizabeth Ralph talk about why the United States hasn’t had a woman President and suggest that displays of masculinity in politics may have a chilling effect on potential women candidates.

Running Start’s fellows listened to the podcast and shared their reactions. Spoiler alert — these same fellows participated in a focus group with some of POLITICO’s women leaders several weeks ago to give their thoughts on what would make a podcast appealing to millennial women like them. As you’ll read below, this one was!

Lara Ellen Plecas: Right off the bat I was intrigued by this podcast segment. President Trump’s style has certainly reminded me of the masculinity the President can project. I think it’s interesting how the United States has been perceived around the world as masculine and assertive since his arrival in office. It’s especially striking since we often associate our country with freedom and liberty, concepts we typically personify as women (think the Statue of Liberty).

Rianne Bonner: I think that the podcast is a great start in getting women interested in talking about politics as well as breaking the glass ceiling in other sectors. I could see how our discussions in the focus group were incorporated into the podcast. They specifically mentioned getting young women interested in politics, which is the mission of Running Start. I’m glad to know that the strategy of planting the seed at a young age that women should run for office is starting to catch on.

POLITICO’s editors touched on how Nancy Pelosi maintains power as Minority Leader in the House and how it seems like Betsy DeVos has limited power in her role because she is a woman running a department historically seen as feminine. It is interesting that women face similar challenges in being perceived as powerful, regardless of party affiliation. Women go through a sort of “political hazing” process before they are able to fully own their positions.

Tiana Thomas: The masculinity portrayed by many politicians highlights the stereotypes that women deal with in politics. Women interested in running for office often feel like they are not supported, either by other women or by their own party. This all makes women less likely to run for office. So, the question is whether they are simply choosing to not speak up, or if they are not really given the opportunity to do so. This happens in media, too: there are more male political commentators than women.

Having more representation of women in all fields, including journalism, can help women see that they can do it and can show critics that women are just as capable in those jobs.

Rianne: The important take-away is that in order for there to be a woman President, there must be a woman candidate. Women should not be discouraged or give up hope because of setbacks, but keep striving in order to keep breaking glass ceilings.

Lara: Speaking of glass ceilings, do we think that we’ll ever break it if more women aren’t in the game? For example, the podcast mentioned that our political system favors incumbents, so it doesn’t allow for more people to cycle through public offices. I had never really thought about this but it’s so true! For example, in Iowa, we had the same Senators for most of my life until Senator Harkin retired, which created an opportunity for Senator Ernst.

Rianne: Yes, and even the Founding Fathers were men. From the very beginning, our system of government has been dominated by a male perspective. The Constitution and our government are slow to change, so maybe the structure of our political process itself has reinforced the trend that women are less likely than men to run for office. That’s over 200 years of a system of government that is primarily male-centered!

Lara: Regarding Leader Pelosi, I think it’s so important to note that the system makes women work twice as hard to get recognition and then people still criticize them as abrasive or worse.

Tiana: Overall, I truly admire Margaret Slattery’s and Elizabeth Ralph’s idea of starting young. Their background in political journalism from a young age is a good example to encourage other women to start their political careers early on. And this is exactly what Running Start’s programs encourage! We’ll get to see this in action soon: I’m excited to attend an Elect Her training for college women at American University next month.


Rianne Bonner is a George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management student, focusing on Electoral Politics. Rianne is originally from Oakland, California and earned bachelor’s in Political Science from Clemson University.

Lara Ellen Plecas is a George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management student, focusing on Advocacy Politics. Lara is from Des Moines, Iowa, went to DePaul University, and has a degree in Relational Communication and Communications and Media.

Tiana Thomas is a George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management student, focusing on Legislative Affairs. She cares about health care, tax reform and immigration. Tiana was born and raised in the Virgin Islands and relocated to New York to pursue a Bachelors of Arts in Government and Politics at St. John’s University.


On October 20h, 2017 POLITICO’s Managing Director of Audience Insights Rebecca Haller, President Poppy MacDonald, and VP of POLITICO Live Alexis Williams met with Running Start’s fellows. These fellows included George Washington Graduate School of Political Management sponsored fellows, Lara Ellen Plecas, Tiana Thomas, Rianne Bonner, and Ekoyo Atkins (who wasn’t present during the above discussion). Running Start’s Walmart-sponsored Star Fellows were also part of the focus group, but also were not part of the above follow-on discussion.