Female Politician Shares Pearls of Wisdom
Madeleine Kunin knows firsthand what it’s like to be a trailblazing female politician.
She got her political start in Vermont, where she became the first woman to hold a leadership position in the state Legislature and the first female chair of the state House Appropriations Committee. In 1984, she was elected the first female governor of Vermont. And after leaving the governor’s office in 1991, she entered the national political scene, serving as deputy secretary of Education during the Clinton administration and, later, the ambassador to Switzerland.
In her new book, “Pearls, Politics & Power: How Women Can Win and Lead,” Kunin weaves her personal experiences and insights with those of other politically active women to illustrate how women have navigated political waters.
Opening with a “call to action,” Kunin writes that women have been “bystanders to history for far too long. We have no more excuses; we are educated, we care, and we are ready to enter the arena.”
Kunin points to female success stories in the past few decades: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Attorney General Janet Reno, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). But she argues that despite these cases, female participation in U.S. politics remains too low.
“What surprised me in writing the book was that we haven’t made more progress,” Kunin said in an interview. “Out of 187 countries, the United States ranks 69th for the percentage of women in the lower houses of government.”
Kunin went on to note that countries such as Rwanda and Argentina far outstrip the United States when it comes to the percentage of women in their legislatures.
“Imagine what would change if we matched Argentina’s 40 percent figure,” Kunin said. “Things would change with registration. Voting women are not all of one opinion, but women do tend to lean in certain directions, towards certain issues. Women have more credibility and concern about [issues such as] education, environment and health care.”
In her book, Kunin discusses several challenges faced by women trying to start careers in politics. There are the typical roadblocks of time, money and privacy. But in addition, Kunin said that through her research, she found one of the biggest challenges aspiring female politicians have to overcome is their own doubt.
“While American women are very advanced in many ways, they have a tendency to sit on the sidelines saying that politics is too dirty, that they couldn’t get anything done.” she said.
Kunin writes that in order for more women to get elected, more women need to feel they have the qualifications to run for office.
“There is consensus that the chief barrier to electing more women is disarmingly simple: No one has asked them to run,” Kunin writes. “Boys don’t wait to be asked, even though they often are by their old boy network. But if nobody asks a man to run, he is likely to decide for himself, or ‘self-identify.’ Women are far less likely to think of themselves as qualified and are more likely to be uncomfortable by the seeming arrogance of declaring their own candidacy.”
Kunin concludes that based on trends in the private sector, government can only benefit from having more women overcome the barriers and take office.
“Why?” Kunin writes. “Because they not only look different, but they think differently, and they value collaboration and innovation. It may just be that this is what America needs to bridge our divides and create change. Women will not have all the answers, but they are sure to inject new talent, ideas, and optimism into a political system desperately in need of all three.”