Female political candidates face a delicate balancing act, says book; In the Running, by Ruth B. Mandel. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields. $12.95.
As budget cuts, Supreme Court edicts, and proposed legislation such as the Family Protection Act affect the status of women, can women afford not be involved in the political structure?
The demographics of women alone demand it. Women make up 51 percent of the US population. The majority of poor and elderly are female. Women who work earn an average of 59 cents for every dollar a man makes.
What do women candidates face today? Ruth B. Mandel has the background to answer this question as director of the Center for the American Woman and Politics and associate professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.
Using anecdotes from the campaigns of women throughout the country, gathered by a network of journalists, Ms. Mandel surveys the advance guard of candidates. She defines what obstacles need to be overcome. She details how to obtain and manage campaign resources.
The actual instances she writes about point to appalling backwardness in accepttance of female candidates. For example, image is a dilemma for an aspiring female candidate; her candidacy requires a delicate balancing act that men don't always have to face. A woman can't be too tough or she'll be considered shrill. If she is somewhat soft, people will wonder whether she can really do the job.
And good looks can be a problem. Although it is an asset for a male politician to be handsome beautiful women can have a hard time.
When Norma Paulus run for secretary of state in Oregon, her managers worried that she might be too good looking. One campaign manager explains in the book that "being a blue-eyed blonde automatically means you don't have a brain in your head."
But there is still an encouraging tone to the book. It is heartening to hear of the successful strategy of Ann Richards, a Texan who used knowledge gained in years as a precinct worker and tactician. She then analyzed her own chances of election by watching elections. Her carefully organized campaign, which included lots of door knocking and neighborhood coffee parties, ended in success. It seems clear that barriers are indeed broken through perseverance and hard work, though woman candidate often has to try harder than a male opponent.
Stories like that of Ann Richards help Ms. Mandel bring home the quite sensible advantage of starting off at a lower level and steadily working one's way up. She tells women to build a base of credibility early. Join political clubs and community organizations, or get an appointment to local planning boards or committees. Use connections made doing volunteer or behind-the-scenes work. Establish grass-roots support. When it is time to take the leap into candidacy, make sure that the plan is thoroughly researched.
"In the Running" is written from a distinctly feminist viewpoint. On the one hand, this lends credibility to the book. The writer is sympathetic to the problems women politicians face, and she does not dismiss them as picayune.
On the other hand, this would not be the right book for a conservative woman with political aspirations. It almost appears as if Ms. Mandel believes all women are either moderate or liberal. She points out that conservative groups are not too interested in sending women to office, which does seem to be true. But nevertheless the rank and file of conservative groups are often women. Ms. Mandel could have done a better job addressing their place in politics.
Being a politician, no matter which sex, is not an easy occupation.It is discouraging to read that some of the old prejudices against women leaders have not changed. But "In the Running" also strengthens admiration for the women who have made it successfully in the political world. They are effectively a bout their business.