We're heading into an election year where 34 states will elect a senator, 12 states will elect a governor, and we will all vote to elect a president. Those of us devoted to increasing gender parity in politics can't afford to sit on the sidelines.
It's time to get to work. Here are some ways you can help:
Elect a woman president.
Women have been running for president, reaching toward the highest and hardest glass ceiling, since 1872.This election cycle, we have a potentially history making contest: the United States has never had two women vying for the top of their respective party's ticket at the same time. This means no matter whether you vote in a Republican or Democratic primary, you have the opportunity to cast your vote for a woman.
I, for one, can't wait to cast my ballot on March 1st. If you're not sure when your state's primary is, you can get more information here.
Make diversity a priority.
When we elect women, we change the conversation. Women bring a different perspective to the table because we have different experiences; the same goes for office holders of different races, religions, and sexual orientations. We've hit some great milestones here in Massachusetts: we doubled the number of women on the Boston City Council, including a historic number of women of color, and swore in Maura Healey, the first openly gay state attorney general. That same council is poised to elect a woman of color as its president.
This is progress, but it's not enough.
No African-American women serve in statewide elected executive office in 48 states, and only two LGBT women serve in Congress. We know that women need to be encouraged to run for office, while men don't need to be asked. Recognizing the important role diversity plays in our democracy, I encourage you to ask women of color and LGBT women to run.
Push back on gender bias in the media.
Sexism in media coverage of women candidates is nothing new. After all these years, there are still stories about Hillary Clinton's hair and Carly Fiorina's face. Research shows that when women candidates, or a third-party validator, confront sexist media coverage head-on, voters respond positively. To help highlight the role gender plays in presidential politics, my nonpartisan Barbara Lee Family Foundation has partnered with the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University to create Presidential Gender Watch, which analyzes and illuminates gender dynamics in the 2016 election.
As you watch the news, go on social media, and talk with your friends and family, try to notice how gender informs the conversation and confront it. If you see sexism, say something.
Give women candidates the tools to succeed.
In addition to our work on Presidential Gender Watch, the Barbara Lee Family Foundation conducts research that focuses on providing practical, how-to advice for women candidates.
For example, we know that women must be considered both likeable and qualified in order to be elected, and I'm excited to announce that next year we will be releasing ground-breaking information about what makes voters perceive a woman candidate as "likeable."
Please share these resources with the women candidates you know. Information is crucial to running a smart and successful campaign.
2016 has the potential to be a monumental year. I hope we're on the verge of electing our first woman president - a milestone for progress and equality. I'm reminded of a poster that hangs in my office. It depicts groundbreaking suffragist Inez Milholland on a white horse, holding a banner with the phrase "Forward into light."
That's exactly where we're headed. Let's keep going.