Opinion

Who run for office? Girls.

How Trump's presidency is inspiring women to enter politics

That smug, can't-catch-me grin. Those wee flailing hands, attempting to punctuate facts that don't exist. That whiny voice huffing, "The biggest. Ever. Believe me." I've long thought it true, but now statistics prove it: There's something about Donald Trump standing at the presidential podium that makes women want to run.

They're not running away from politics, though; they're sprinting towards it — in vast, pissed-off, let's-do-this numbers. Attendance was 66 percent higher than usual at Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics "Ready to Run" workshop in March, an event for women interested in seeking office. People were even being turned away. Last year, EMILY's List, a group that helps pro-choice Democratic women get elected, talked to 900 women who wanted to run during the 2016 election cycle; this year they've heard from 11,000.

"After this election cycle, I think a lot of women were just like, 'You know, it's enough. I need to find a way to get involved and make my political voice heard,'" says Maimuna Syed, executive director of Emerge California, a national organization that identifies, encourages, and trains women to run for office — and get elected. Trainees undergo 70 hours of in-depth candidate coaching from public speaking to fundraising, networking, cultural competency, and ethical leadership. Their list of alumnae makes you want to scrap your life and start over as a warrior princess. Recently, the Golden State branch graduated its largest class: 57 women, which was nearly double the typical class size.

The U.S. ranks 96th in the world (behind China and Pakistan, mind you) for percentage of women in elected office. Women make up less than one fifth of our Congress. Studies blame that low number on the fact that women here are less likely to be recruited or encouraged to run, are still responsible for the majority of childcare in their families, and, most significantly, tend to believe they aren't experienced enough.

"I never felt like politics was accessible as a minority immigrant woman — a Muslim woman — like it was somewhere I could fit in," says Syed. "I think a lot of women feel this way, like they're not visible."

Syed planned to go to med school after college but got an internship with Hillary Clinton in 2007. She spent the following years in the labor movement, directing massive unions before returning to Clinton's campaign for the 2016 election. Like many women, the stunning loss spurred her to action. How could such a qualified woman not be elected, she thought? Why aren't qualified women being elected to every office?

"In California, women only make up 22 percent of the legislature, and yet we're 52 percent of the voting population!" she said. "That gap is what I decided to focus my effort on. Not just to have gender parity, but to stress the issues that elected women are going to advocate on behalf of."

Not only is it crucial to have people at the decision-making table who will actually be affected by those decisions (hello, roomful of old white men deciding the fate of women's reproductive rights!), Syed says, but women are often a different kind of politician — the kind we need more of right now.

"Women tend to be problem solvers, and in that sense are more willing to compromise on issues," she says. They say, "'Explain how this affects you,' and 'What can we do to fix the problem?' rather than just making unilateral decisions."

Syed hopes that Emerge's next few cohorts will produce a fierce, fearless class of female leaders who no longer feel restricted by "the social implications that women have been facing for generations: not having their voices heard, and feeling like they have to be the smartest, loudest, most articulate voice, and yet simultaneously the most rational person, in order to succeed in politics."

If Trump has done nothing else for our country, at least he's disabused us of that notion.

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