Lessons from Lenore
| June 20, 2012
It’s a popular question: What person, dead or alive, would you most like to meet?
Thanks to the cover article of the June 4 issue of Time magazine, Lenore Romney may be rising to the top of many lists, especially among those of us keen to see more women enter politics.
In 1970, Romney was the GOP nominee seeking to unseat Sen. Phil Hart (D-MI). According to Barton Gellman’s article, she ran at a time “when women in politics still released their glove and shoe sizes.” On the campaign trail, when asked why she was not at home with her family, Romney would quip, “Well, I’ve already churned the butter for today.”
And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just look at the coverage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wearing headbands or going “au naturel.” Or skim the story on former GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s fingernails. Or think back to the last presidential election, when pundits wondered who’d stay at home with Sarah Palin’s children. Male candidates don’t get questions about their family obligations or their latest haircut, but women are not only asked—they’re expected to answer.
Discussions of a candidate’s appearance or home life are just distractions. We need to focus instead on the underrepresentation of women in American politics. Compared with other nations, we are far behind. Currently, women hold just 17 percent of the seats in the U.S. Congress and 22 percent of the seats in state legislatures. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) and Running Start are trying to close the gap through our Elect Her initiative, which trains college women to run for student government and future office. With women making up the majority of students on college campuses, we must encourage them to break the gender leadership gap and be our leaders of tomorrow.
At AAUW, we’re doing our part by connecting women from around the country at our National Conference for College Women Student Leaders. Held earlier this month, these college women met trailblazers such as Lilly Ledbetter and Sandra Fluke, who inspired them to speak out when they see injustice. And now that all eyes are turned on Michigan and state Rep. Lisa Brown, I can only hope that women across the nation will be emboldened to get involved in the political process – not just to honor our foremothers, but to make sure we build a better world for our daughters and granddaughters.
The Time article reports that after ending her campaign, Romney said, “It’s the most humiliating thing I know of to run for office.” And that was before Hustler and Photoshop. Despite the devoted support of her family—son Mitt visited all 83 counties in the state of Michigan on her behalf—the process scarred Lenore Romney. She told a friend that she hoped to someday be up to working on another candidate’s campaign, but, she cautioned, “He will have to be awfully good.”
Change is coming, and it’s thanks to women like Lenore Romney that we’ve come this far. But it’s up to us to finish the job. It’s up to us to challenge the old guard with new ideas and the new faces needed to advance them. Mitt Romney gained the courage and experience to run for office from both of his parents—that’s the kind of legacy we need to pass along to our daughters as well as our sons.
We need to share more stories of women stepping up and speaking out for political change. And we need more men to support their mothers, daughters, and wives who want to run. Ask them to run for office and support them like Mitt Romney did his mother. Silencing women doesn’t work; let’s give them a megaphone.