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April 16, 2007

Fightin' Dems and netroots dudes

Chris Bowers wonders why movement progressive candidates are overwhelmingly male:

I am not really sure what to make of this, but it certainly does seem odd to me that most of the Democratic, "progressive movement" candidates in both local areas like Philadelphia, and national areas like prominent, Act Blue fundraising pages for high trafficked blogs are male. And by "most," I mean more than a supermajority. Looking back at the 2006 electoral cycle, off-hand I can only think of nine women candidates for federal office who made positive waves throughout a wide swath of the progressive netroots: Christine Cegalis in IL-06, Victoria Wulsin in OH-02, Darcy Burner in WA-08, Linda Stender in NJ-07, Francine Busby in CA-50, Donna Edwards in MD-04, Angie Paccione in CO-04, Lois Murphy in PA-06; and Kirsten Gillibrand in NY-20. By contrast, there were around three or four-dozen male candidates who drew regular, prominent, positive attention from the progressive netroots. I'm not going to list them all here, because I don't want the length of the list, or quibbles over who belongs on the list, to dominate discussion. But I do think it is fair to say that there is about a 3-1 or 4-1 male-female ratio among "progressive movement candidates," no matter how that term is defined.

As Chris notes, it's not that women are less likely to seek Democratic office as movement progressives than as any other kind of Democrat.

Here's one trend that might be contributing to the preponderance of male candidates: Fightin' Dems. Over the past few years, the netroots has made a concerted effort to recruit veterans as anti-war candidates. Men still outnumber women in the military by a considerable margin. I can only think of one female Iraq veteran who ran for office with any netroots support, Tammy Duckworth.*

Duckworth was one of twelve vets from Iraq and Afghanistan to run for office last year. That figure doesn't include candidates who served prior to the current conflicts and who campaigned in part on their military experience, e.g., Jim Webb.

Obviously the veteran angle doesn't explain the whole gender disparity. Even if FD does skew the gender ratio a little, it doesn't follow that the we shouldn't recruit vets. However, FD recruiting might be an example of how our nominally gender-neutral search strategies inadvertently perpetuate preexisting disparities.

*As Eric notes below, Duckworth wasn't a darling of the netroots. Some of the netroots folks who backed Duckworth's primary opponent threw their support behind Duckworth, but she was more of a DCCC project.


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Tammy Duckworth got a lot of support from Rep. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL) of the DCCC, but I never considered her a netroots candidate.

I don't recall having seen Tammy Duckworth on the "Act Blue" list of any major liberal blogger.

She's not on this list of MyDD/Daily Kos/Swing State Project.

Actually, I asked my daughter a similar question not long ago. "What are your plans when you return from Iraq? Have you ever considered politics? Running for public office?"

In many respects, my daughter has unassailable credentials: double major from Rutgers University with distinction; rank of Captain in the military; two bronze stars and 7 distinguished service citations; extensive foreign service experience in Iraq, Korea, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, etc. Her qualifications for public office are better than most who declare themselves.

So what was her response? “Dad, politics is a dirty business. Not interested.” I think that says it all.

There's also what you could call the Hillary effect -- women are expected to be liberal, so any given progressive woman looks (to the electorate? To what power brokers think the electorate will think?) further left than she is. If that's the case, you'd expect female candidates to be centrist within the Democratic party, because they'll get credit for more progressive views than they really have, while genuinely progressive women would be treated as unelectable extremists. If men, on the other hand, get assumed to be further right than they really are, that would tend to make them cluster as the candidates with the actually most progressive opinions.

This is oversimplified hugely, but might have some relationship to what's going on.

I think that movement progressivism has tendency to favor what might be called "Hit Somebody" Democrats--candidates who, like Dean and Hackett, are pugnacious. I wonder sometimes if there is an absence of a broadly understood vocabulary or manner for a woman to be pugnacious, and whether such an absence might have the sort of effects you're discussing. I can't think of too many women politicians who I'd identify as "Happy Warrior" politicians. That will change rapidly when the woman the times demand shows up, though.

Firstly, I think it's important to note, as Chris Bowers does in his article, that the ratio supported by movement progressives is not far different from the ratio of all women running to all men running. That is to say, movement progressives are not supporting fewer women than the DLC is. There is still a dearth of women who are involved in politics.

However, our movement should be concerned by this ratio across the board, and within our campaigns. I tend to agree with Tim up above. Due to, as Josh Marshall calls it, the Bitch-Slap school of politics, across the board people are supporting more and more people who are pugnacious, who stand up tall, who fight back. But you won't find that as much in women, because women who exhibit those qualities are humorless bitches, shrill, emasculating, lesbians, etc. Not that I see most of the liberal blogosphere shooting women candidates down, I think for the most part a fightin' woman candidate would be welcomed. But we're lucky if their campaigns get enough off the ground to hear about her. And I'm sure most women just don't want to put themselves through being called all that in the national media, not when they can be an activist in other ways and only harassed in private.

If movement progressives are really interested in seeing less gender disparity, and we should be, then we'll have to 1) make a serious effort to seek out and support women candidates who are part of the movement, giving them to cover to speak out and jumping on gender based media criticisms and 2) continue to support the feminist blogoshpere in its efforts to call attention to this sort of misogyny and make politics, and the net, a safer place to be a woman who speaks up.

I agree with the comments here, but I'm also wondering if the lack of prominent female politicians has been an issue? Hillary Clinton is, shall we say, an imperfect precedent. Otherwise, look at the news: It's Waxman, Leahy, Conyers, Reid, Feingold, Lieberman, Hagel, etc., etc., etc. The one recent, and dramatic, exception is Nancy Pelosi, who seems to be establishing herself almost as a President pro tem while the current Administration implodes, and whose popularity and name recognition are good and getting better.

I'm not sure if we'll see a "Pelosi effect" before '10 or '12 at the earliest, but if she convinces women that they can make it on their terms, without a boost from their husbands, and without selling out (much), I could see a definite uptick in the number of women who throw their hats in the ring.

I dunno. I think I read about equal parts male and female on politics. About half of my political readings seem to be lead by women. More of my favorite blogs are by women.

I read a lot of technology stuff, and that is way segregated. Tech people think to make something for a girl you dumb it down and make it pink.

I don't see this divide so much in the netroots as in the candidates.

I'm not sure if we'll see a "Pelosi effect" before '10 or '12 at the earliest,

I think you're underrating Dem female politicos, particularly at the state level. I suspect the Dems will nominate either a female Presidential or VP candidate for '08. Maybe Obama has to take a white male (though I doubt it). But I seem to recall a lot of discussion about Napolitano or Sebelius as VP candidates.

One other thing about Duckworth is that her primary opponent, Christine Cegelis, was a woman who had won over many local activists. It was probably the most bitter DCCC vs. locals primary of the cycle.

I'd attribute it just to the overall ratio of men to women in American politics.

But if that's not enough, it's worth looking at abortion politics. Among both pro-lifers and pro-choicers, women care about abortion more than men on average. I don't think it's a coincidence that among the six serious Presidential candidates, the only one who really cares about abortion is the one who's female. It's no secret that the Democrats are increasingly deemphasizing the issue, leaving out many pro-choice moderates while reaching out to pro-life populists. So it makes sense for that to depress the proportion of female candidates, since they're less likely than male candidates to shut up about the issue.

On the other hand, I have no idea how to empirically test that, so take it with a grain of salt.

Perhaps I'm just starry-eyed about the Local Girl Who Made Good, but it seems to me that Grandma Pelosi is a powerful role model, and one who is exactly in the Happy Warrior class. I mean, her image is that she's tough as nails (and the image is understated, according to some people who know her), and she also seems go be having one hell of a good time.

I'm not going to make invidious comparisons, much less introduce divisiveness into the Democratic Party [joke], but since you ask, she looks much like the anti-Hilary. To have some followers turn up in '08 and '10 is a refreshing, even bracing, prospect. (OK if they don't qualify as grandmothers first. OK if they have stronger leftist tendencies than that excellent Democrat.)

SomeCallMeTim: "I think you're underrating Dem female politicos, particularly at the state level."

Just in time to affirm your criticism, Christy at FireDogLake posts this about netroots candidate Kirsten Gillibrand. Granted, she's a Federal legislator, but this is still a great example of local politics. So I think there definitely is something to the local candidates as well if and only if, like Gillibrand and Pelosi, they are perceived as independent, powerful, ethical and responsive.

Pelosi is mostly interesting to me just because she's visible and national. I think the combination of her example at the national level and more local examples will have a positive impact.

I guess one question to ask is how many female candidates stood as a proportion of all candidates, and if a significantly disproportionate number were chosen by the netroots.

This could reflect on the politics of the female candidates that stand.

There is a gender imbalance in the Democratic party's elected representatives. But this is historical, and can't be attributed to the netroots. It must be challenged now for the new candidates coming into the party. I think this is best done (for now, until there is evidence of other factors) by more women with values in accord with the netroots standing as candidates. That way there are better odds that the best candidate will be a woman.

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