Saint Paul Needs More Women in Office

[The current Saint Paul City Council.]
“It's taken time to stamp out most remnants of the old boys club.”

That’s what Senator Amy Klobuchar said in this CBS News report about women in the US Senate, which still has only 20 women despite the persistent fact that women make up over half the population. (I think Senator Klobuchar still has a long way to go.)

There are a whole host of reasons why we need better gender parity in politics. For example, studies suggest that women are better at compromise while men are more likely to take risks. But it's also a matter of social justice. Our leaders should reflect the people.

And what's true nationally, and at the state level, is arguably even more important locally. These days, Saint Paul is worse off than Congress (!) when it comes to gender. Particularly when you compare our city government to our Western neighbor, I’m worried about the symbolism and impact of having so few women representing our city.

Minneapolis vs. Saint Paul

Here’s a comparison:

[Gender and current representation; Saint Paul has 8 elected officials, Minneapolis has 14.]

When Betsy Hodges was elected two years ago, she became the second mayor in Minneapolis history after Sharon Sayles Belton. Saint Paul has never elected a woman to its highest office.

To make matters worse, when Ward 7 Council President Kathy Lantry stepped down halfway through her term, and was replaced by a interim male Council Member, that left only a sole elected official for Saint Paul: Ward 5's Amy Brendmoen. (Note: I have nothing against Finney, nor any other particular male politician.)

Meanwhile, Minneapolis has achieved gender parity, with a female mayor and six out of 13 Council Members. (The new City Council class is also the youngest in city history.)

The gap looms large, and I think it’s a problem

[What the Minneapolis City Council looks like.]

Why Gender in Politics Matters

[Chart from this fascinating study.]
Hillary Clinton is running for our country’s highest office (again), which means a lot of conversations are taking place about how women are perceived as leaders in our society. Issues include double standards, the glass ceiling, subtle and not so subtle forms of patriarchy, structural inequalities, the pay gap, reproductive rights, and much more. It’s an interesting time to think about how gender plays a role in our governance and democratic processes.

But even at a local level, I think it’s important that we have women in office. Personally, I tend to believe that women are generally better at understanding issues that revolve around social groups. In other words, because women have to deal with subtle and overt forms of gender discrimination, they tend to be better at understanding the way that economic, political, and cultural norms can impact whole classes of people.

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to view the world through an individualist lens. In other words, for most men, things like patriarchy (or other kinds of discrimination) tend to be less visible, and the world can be more easily viewed as one where it’s “each man for himself.” (This is where political terms like “personal responsibility,” “bootstraps,” and other kinds of individualistic language come into play.)

Obviously these are generalizations, and there are always exceptions (e.g. Margaret Thatcher). But perceptions of gender in leadership support these broad notions, with men being viewed as strong on things like fighting crime and supporting national defense, with women being seen as strong on “social issues.”

(There are other studies out there that suggest women are better at compromise, while men are better at risk taking; others that suggest women are more likely to be involved in domestic and community-based social and political networks, while men rely more on networks that exist outside the family.)

[Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is really into Wonder Woman... which means something, I guess.]

Simple Social Justice

[See whole list here.]
So that’s the nuanced argument about gender and politics. But there’s a more basic argument that’s even more compelling. We need our elected officials to reflect our citizenry. Women make up over half the population of Saint Paul, and our officials should reflect that. The same holds true for race, age, and other differences.

It’s not that Saint Paul has never elected women into office. Dating back to 1972, there have been many female City Council members elected or appointed into office. But the imbalance is strong; twice in the 1990s (and once in the 1980s) there were three women in office simultaneously. Meanwhile, for four years in the 1980s, the Council was all-male, and in almost 50 years, only 12 women have been elected (not appointed) into Saint Paul government. 

Saint Paul has a deserved reputation as a city where a lot of politics happens in the back rooms, out of public view. Sometimes this is a good thing! (My favorite example is Mary Lethert Wingerd’s description of how the Archbishop worked with Saint Paul leadership to limit strikes and labor exploitation during the 1930s.) There are a lot of things to be proud of in Saint Paul, and in my experiences at the city, there are many smart women in leadership throughout different city departments working hard behind the scenes.

But behind the scenes isn't good enough. Who's positioned on the stage matters too, and Saint Paul's "old boys club" needs to be better at admitting women.

A female candidate isn’t necessarily better than a male candidate, of course. There are many examples of terrible female politicians, and men who have been great leaders. But it's embarrassing that we have so few women representing us in Saint Paul.

This isn't a comment against any particular or aspiring Saint Paul politician. But gender parity at City Hall is something that needs to change. It’s important and overdue.

[Five of the last six Saint Paul mayors and Gary Eichten. (Randy Kelly MIA.)]


Anonymous said...

I agree that St. Pizzle needs more women, however women that run for office who don't support other women, do not necessarily create a better environment for women. What if we elected women that are anti-choice like Carly Fiorina or anti feminist like Rebecca Noecker.

"If feminists were to take a step back and view the current situation of women in this country objectively, they might realize that women no longer need interest groups, support networks, activism and doctored curriculae—that they, in fact, are better off without feminists’ supposed help," - Rebecca Noecker. http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2001/10/16/the-farce-of-feminism-strolling-through/

If we can't acknowledge that women are unfortunately still at a disadvantage to men - for example: salary or reproductive rights, how can we work to solve these problems. Its like people saying global warming isn't real, and they also don't suffer immediate consequences of rising sea levels. What makes me worried is Rebecca's total sense of privilege. She has never faced adversity because of her gender, therefore it must not exist. I think it is dangerous to our democracy to have people in power who lack the understanding of institutional inequality who then disparage any organizing of individuals for attempting to achieve equality and justice.

Unknown said...

Nice try Troll.

Bill Lindeke said...

Quoting from high school juvenilia is a pretty low road..