Running for office as a woman

I waited until after election day to write this post for a very specific reason. The unconscious bias I encountered while campaigning (and I do believe most of it was unconscious) is a lot of things but it is not a reason to vote for me.

I wanted to people to vote for me for one reason and one reason only - they thought I would do a good job. 

Election Day has now come and gone. So, I can share what I encountered without worrying about whether or not it would affect someone's decision to vote for me. I hope that in sharing people will have a better understanding of what women encounter when running for office, will think carefully about their own unconscious biases, and will encourage and support any women in their own lives who want to run. 

As most of you know, I knocked on over 5,000 doors during my campaign for Paducah City Commission. I did almost all of my knocking alone and during the day while my children were in school. One any given day a little over half of the doors I'd knock on would be opened and I'd get to have an actual conversation, instead of hanging my door hanger and moving on to the next house. 

Here are some of the comments I got that I'm guessing my male opponents didn't: Are you married? What does your husband do? These comments came from both men and women. I often got asked if I had children, which didn't bother me. What did bother me is that several people - again men and women - openly questioned how I would have time to be a city commissioner (a part-time position) while raising three young children.

The current governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin has NINE children - the oldest of which was born in 2003. Do you think anyone worries about how he'll do his job or asks him how he'll take care of his children? I'm guessing not. 

Now, when one runs for public office, you are opening yourself up to questions about your personal life but often these questions didn't feel like curiosity. They felt like judgment. They felt like people were trying to figure out why a young woman was doing something not a lot of young women do - run for office. It felt like they were trying to place me within the traditional roles for women and make sure that I wasn't straying too far outside of those.

I also got a lot of comments on my appearance.

Some were negative. I had three men look at the picture on my door hanger - a picture where I am coiffed, groomed, and photoshopped - then look at me as I stood in front of them sweaty from knocking on doors all day and ask, "You sure this is you?"

I laughed it off but it stung every time. It stung not because they were insulting me but because of all the things they could have asked me or talked to me about regarding my campaign they chose to take a cheap shot about my looks and reduce our interaction to one about my appearance.

I also got a fair amount of compliments on my appearance. I had men tell me I was gorgeous and ask me how old I was. I had men tell me my photo didn't do me justice. I had several men mistake my politeness for permission to touch me. Several gave me side-hugs. 

Every time I was by myself and every time I felt like I had no choice but to smile and acquiesce. 

I know a compliment on your appearance always seems like a good thing. We all want to hear we look nice, but running for public service is serious and important. I am asking people to trust me with their tax dollars, their safety, the future of their community. I am asking for their vote and how I look is completely irrelevant. Again, I think it's safe to assume my male opponents didn't receive many comments on their appearance.

Towards the end of the campaign, someone wrote a letter-to-the-editor to our local paper warning people not to vote for me or another woman who was running for mayor. The letter argued that we were "stealth" and "devious" and hiding our true political motives in running for office.

Both my race and the mayoral race was nonpartisan. However, I was still open and honest about my partisan leanings and told anyone who asked what party I belonged to. So, first and foremost, the attack was wholly inaccurate. However, I also believe that letter and a letter posted publicly at party headquarters were gendered. The letter posted publicly also accused of us being "stealth" and hiding our real ideas. 

Forbes recently interviewed some of the world's most powerful women and asked the stereotype they hated the most. 

Conniving was in the top ten.

The idea is that women can't rise to positions of power on their own merit - women only rise because other people are grooming them (as the letter also claimed about me), because they are deceiving people, because they don't really belong here and they must be lying about who they are or what they represent in order to succeed. 

It is incredibly upsetting and insulting. 

Now, in full disclosure, there are also benefits of being a woman running for office. No one seemed to feel threatened or fearful when they saw me knocking on their doors. I had a male friend tell me to make sure and always take several steps back from the door after knocking. However, I almost never did and no one seemed to care. As a woman, no one saw me as a physical threat. 

No one was openly rude or hostile to me because of my gender and I want to emphasize that the VAST majority of my interactions were amazingly positive and productive.

And every time the door opened and a little girl was standing there with wide eyes, every time I got to explain to her why I was there and what I was doing, every time she smiled back made every crappy thing people said to me worth it.

Still, making the decision to run for office is difficult for anyone, especially women. Running for office is psychologically and physically taxing. The voices that tell women they can't do it are loud - whether they are coming from within our own heads or from a voter. 

I guess all I'm asking is that the other voices be louder. If you know a woman who should run for office, encourage her. If you know a woman running for office, support her. If you hear someone commenting on a female politician's appearance, shut it down. Donate to organizations that support and train women running for office. 

Not because women are better or deserve special treatment, but - in the words of a pretty famous male politician - "when everybody is equal, we are all more free."

Exit the Echo Chamber: Bipartisanship As An Act of Faith

Twice a week, I co-host a political podcast with a Republican. I’m a Democrat. This means that twice a week I sit down and engage in political debate with someone who feels very differently than I do on a great many issues.

We start each show the same.

No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance.

Willingly volunteering for political confrontation is most people’s worst nightmares. It’s certainly my mother’s worst nightmare but I do it willingly because I believe we desperately need more civil discourse in the world. I believe that if we can’t discuss – even debate – the things we feel most passionately about then we are destined to fall for the siren song of rightness ringing in our own ears.

My big announcement and how it affects this blog

So, in case you missed it...

Today I'm excited to announce my candidacy for Paducah City Commission! This town is ready for the next generation of...

Posted by Sarah Stewart Holland on Monday, January 25, 2016

I had a big day yesterday! I filed to run for Paducah City Commission and announced my candidacy on Facebook. I was so overwhelmed by all the support I received and I wanted to make sure and share this big next step with all of you.

I've thought a lot about this blog (and Pantsuit Politics) as I got close to announcing my candidacy. The traditional advice is to clean up your Facebook and other social media platforms. Remove offensive posts. Take down anything that could anger a voter. When I recently wrote this post, many of my friends who knew I was considering a run for office questioned my timing... and maybe my judgment. 

But here's the thing.

I've lived my life online since 2011. I've written a lot about a lot of things from parenting philosophies to politics to religion to my marriage. I couldn't take it all down even if I wanted to and - the truth is - I don't want to. 

I want to be a politician. I suppose I already am. But that's not ALL I am. I'm also a mother with thoughts on sleep-training and a wife with thoughts on therapy and a citizen with thoughts on gun control and a church goer with thoughts on faith.

I am all those things and the sooner we allow politicians to be complex people with complex beliefs the better off we all will be.

So, the answer to how my candidacy will affect this blog is - it won't, except hopefully it will teach me all kinds of lessons I can share.  I'm still going to come here and be honest and be vulnerable. I'm still going to go on Pantsuit Politics and be "Sarah Holland from the left."

If something I say means someone won't vote for me, then so be it.

Come November 7th I hope to be Paducah's next City Commissioner, but it will be a shallow victory if I don't recognize the person I became to get there. 

I'm counting on all of you to keep me honest and to keep me real. Win or lose it's going to be a heck of a journey!

If you want to get involved with my campaign or make a donation, check out my campaign website!

Why I'm raising my sons like daughters

Why I'm raising my sons like daughters

Gloria Steinem recently posted her Christmas wish list. The list is fantastic, but one item really spoke to me as the mom of three boys. 

“I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons – but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

The societal expectations placed upon little girls are far from perfect. Women are expected to beautiful and nice and never, ever bossy. However, we’ve come a very, very long way from the 1950’s when getting married and raising a family were the only real life goals presented to women.

I was raised to believe I could be whatever I wanted. I was praised for having big dreams in the traditionally male-dominated worlds of law and politics. 

The same is not true of little boys today.

Why arguing about guns on Facebook made me more patriotic

I’ve been arguing about guns on Facebook for basically 48 hours straight.

What I’ve noticed is that after all the statistics and info graphs - after all the stories and anecdotes and emotions - the two sides seem to represent two world views.

Pro gun control: I believe the government can do something that will improve the situation and I want to try. The world is scary and I want laws to help make it less so.

Anti gun control: I do not believe the government can do anything to help and will most likely make it worse. I feel unsafe as well but government interference makes me feel even less so and I’d rather just defend myself.

Look. Both sides are valid. Both sides are little bit right. After all, government is just a reflection of ourselves - both our best AND our worst. Government can’t fix everything, but it’s not going to ruin everything either.

What I’ve also heard a lot from those opposed to legislation is - the our country/world is getting worse and there’s nothing we can do about it. 

Now, THAT I do not agree with.

Over 500,000 people have been killed by a gun since Heath

Over 500,000 people have been killed by a gun since Heath