It has been an ongoing debate in politics: are there enough women involved and conversely elected. Women make up roughly 20% of Congress while making up at least half the population of the country. There are workshops to get more women engaged with politics and there are leaders calling upon more women to explore public service.
A quick snapshot of New Jersey’s representation in Congress and the state level shows: 1 member of Congress with Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ12), 11 state Senators out of 40 members, and 25 assemblywomen out of 80 members. There has been only one female governor in the state’s history with Christine Todd Whitman. The representation at the local level in cities is just as low.
As seen with Secretary Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacies in 2008 and 2016, there is always a delicate balance when dealing with double standards and approaches to interacting with female candidates. That same sentiment and aspect can be seen with races at different levels and provide an extra element in the dynamics of a given election.
As Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) has mentioned,
I think there are still stereotypes that exist but less than there have been in the past. A male will often be described as strong and a good leader where a woman with the same traits might be described as aggressive or shrill.
Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-37) echoes Weinberg with:
There are times you see men on a faster track for some reason. The dynamic is changing too slowly. It was 95 years ago that women got the right to vote but there is still this perception that politics is too rough and tumble for women. I am still working towards making sure my voice is heard because I do represent my constituents. I don’t want to be drowned out by leadership.
Debates between male and female candidates can highlight how language can be examined in a different light as opposed to a debate between candidates of the same sex. Whether it be ads, speeches, advocacy when elected, or any other area for a candidate or elected official there can be challenges and comments that are directed towards a female that a male does not face. Strong versus bossy or emotions versus more reversed are common points of analysis and debate where women are put under a larger spotlight and criticized.
Mayors like Dawn Zimmer from Hoboken or Wilda Diaz from Perth Amboy are part of a group of female municipal leaders and have both come under scrutiny for their aggressive styles in governing that might not be as contentious if they were male. They are both vocal about not only their stances but also hoping to pave the way for more women to step up into similar roles.
There are not too many women of forefront of making those decisions. As women, we need to give other women opportunities as long as they have that experience and are knowledgeable.
In 2013, former state Senator Barbara Buono hoped to defeat Governor Chris Christie but unable to gain traction even within her own party and often was vocal about her gender potentially playing a role in some of her struggles. A potential Republican candidate for governor in Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno could see similar struggles within her own party if she decides to run in 2017.
The fact that it took nearly 150 years from the Declaration to Independence to the 19th Amendment being passed for women to have the right to vote speaks to the struggles women have faced in this country to get an equal voice and representation. It was only in 2014 that Congress saw at least 100 female members elected to Congress. A state like New Jersey went over 10 years without any female representation at the national level while states like California, Washington, and New Hampshire have two female U.S. Senators and multiple representatives in Congress.
While there is still room for improvement, you can scan the Garden State and see promise for what can be built upon. The state’s second in command with Guadagno and one of the top leaders in the Statehouse with Weinberg are female. While Buono fell short in 2013, next year could see multiple female names arise among those looking to run for governor. Male candidates like Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-3) and Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop are seen as the likely leading candidates to replace Governor Christie. But there could be energy behind not only Guadagno on the Republican side but also someone like state Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-29) who might see her name tossed around as a strong candidate for governor or a potential successor to Sweeney as Senate President if he were to be elected governor. State Senators like Diane Allen (R-7) and Jennifer Beck (R-11) are active members within the minority party in the statehouse and like Ruiz are eager to have their voice heard.
Even in 2016 with progress being made in different areas, there is still a climb ahead. There are strong candidates and elected officials around the state. There is a good chance the first female president could be elected in 2016. There are races like the U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire that feature two leading female candidates. The open election in 2014 for the seat held by Congresswoman Coleman featured a tight race at the top between her and state Senator Linda Greenstein (D-14). There are multiple younger women under 30 and 40 that are spotlighted each year and provide the state with a glimpse of potential candidates and leading advocates for policies.
In the Garden State, there can be a greater focus on cultivating and encouraging more female leaders. That goes beyond just New Jersey. Some states already see progress and successes in electing more female candidates. In 2014 at both the national and state levels there was a high number of female candidates. Again, it will be about building off of that and other steps forward. That approach will create a political environment and arena that features both men and women engaged in bettering their community, state, and country.