Waiting to Be Asked

Today’s Washington Post brings the story of a guy who arranged for a crossword puzzle constructor to work his marriage proposal  into a crossword puzzle.  A few weeks ago, I ushered at a performance of the local Hexagon satirical revue where a man had made arrangements with the director to do HIS proposal onstage in the middle of the performance.

The expectations are getting high, guys!

But these stories about elaborately arranged proposals lead to a pertinent question: are women told from an early age that they need to wait to be asked? And does that impact the likelihood that they will seek public office?

In the 2010 elections, the number of women holding seats in Congress and the state legislatures DECLINED for the first time in 40 years. There are many reasons for this, including the losses that Democrats suffered overall.

In their book, It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office,”  Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox found that men are nearly twice as likely as women to consider themselves “very qualified” to seek an elective post. And they also found that women, across parties and professions, were less likely to receive encouragement to run for office.  In other words, they don’t get asked.

Recognizing this reality, several organizations have begun initiatives to get people to actively recruit women to run. The Women’s Campaign Forum has created a She Should Run tool at http://www.sheshouldrun.org. Emily’s List, meanwhile, has launched an initiative called Stand Up to Serve at http://emilyslist.org/blog/stand_up_to_serve/ to encourage more women to run or to encourage women to encourage their friends to run.

In 1964, Elly Peterson was recruited to run for the U.S. Senate seat from Michigan then held by Democratic Sen. Phil Hart by Gov. George Romney and his aides.  At the time,  women were generally recruited as sacrificial lambs when the campaign was considered hopeless. According to Peterson’s self-published memoir, at least four other men, including then U.S. House Minority Leader Gerald R. Ford and Michigan State University President John Hannah, had been approached about running and turned the job down. Romney urged Peterson to make the race, arguing that she was the one who could hold the Michigan Republican Party together at a time of great conflict between Romney and the anticipated presidential nominee, Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona.

Peterson recalled that she responded by coming up with all the reasons she would NOT make a good candidate. “Nobody knows me outside of the party. I don’t have any personal financial resources or the contacts to raise money. I don’t know how to be a candidate, I only know how to tell someone else how to be one.” Further, her husband might not want her to run. “I had always worked for other people and that’s the way I like it.”

But when Romney prevailed on her, and her husband did not object, she agreed to consider a run. She waited a month before making a final decision, receiving encouragement from newspaper editorial writers, her network of political allies around the state, and two friends who rounded up the signatures of 2,000 supporters within a month.

While she didn’t win, she took heart from the fact that she garnered more votes in the state than Barry Goldwater did, and spent only $75,000 in the process.

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2 Comments

Filed under Women in Politics

2 responses to “Waiting to Be Asked

  1. Hi Sara!
    My mom sent me your blog and I’ve just been checking it out- love the idea behind it!

    I just wanted to add that I think within my generation, it IS becoming much more prevalent for women to propose to men, or (more likely) for a couple to just mutually decide to marry. Likewise, I think that in the future we are going to see a lot more self-motivated female candidates who won’t be waiting to be asked.

    At least I hope so!

    • Thanks for visiting. I know that I could learn a lot from you! “Back in my day<" I think things were pretty informal, at least among my friends, so I’m glad to hear that you think that is still going on.

      Interestingly, when I asked Elly Peterson about the details of how her husband had proposed, she felt it had sort of just happened, after a period of long-distance dating. I read in another family memoir that her husband presented the engagement ring in the false bottom of a slop jar, the kind of practical joke the family liked to play on one another.

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