Guest Commentary: It’s Time Montgomery County Invested in Women
By Brandy Brooks and Danielle Meitiv
The field is set for June, and voters will start to make their choices for elected leaders. As candidates in a very competitive at-large race we cannot be silent about how few women are running. We will not achieve gender parity in politics unless more women not only run, but win in Montgomery County and in Maryland.
You don’t need glasses to see that there are too few women in elected office in Maryland.
Our state ranks 38th for gender parity on Represent Women’s index. The lack of parity is apparent from the local level on up: The Montgomery County Council is majority male (77 percent) and majority white (77 percent). In a county of more than 1 million residents and four of the 10 most diverse cities in the nation, you have to ask yourself: What is going on?
Some might say that there are just not enough viable women running for office. To that we say, your definition of viability is probably outdated and you’re not looking hard enough.
All things are not equal despite a century of work to advance women’s equality. We face sexist criticism for our appearance, make less than men and are often unrecognized for our work in science and engineering. It’s 2018 and while more than half the county is
made up of women, only 30 percent of the candidates running for county council (district and at-large) are women, and we have the first woman running for county executive in over 30 years. Few women have received organizational endorsements, and our plurality winner-take-all voting system puts women at a disadvantage.
The solution offered is for women to change themselves to make the structures respect and value them. It’s time for us to stop asking women to change. It’s time to change the failed structures that keep women, people of color and other communities in the margins.
We need to challenge social stereotypes. Women’s lives and career paths often include detours to care for children or elders — work which is invaluable for understanding social issues. We are strong fundraisers, and black women are a decisive factor for elections (see Alabama), but the narrative is that women are better supporters of other people but not leaders themselves.
We need to support more women in politics so others see the possibility. Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America has endorsed two men and two women for county races. What does it say about the other organizations — many professing progressive policies — that have endorsed few women or no women at all?
We need to invest in women and deliver on the promise of systems like public financing. This can be a game changer for women, but we have to be intentional about recruiting and directing funds to women.
We’re failing on both counts:
- Only 14 of the 39 candidates using public financing are women (36 percent).
- Only 36 percent of public financing women have reached the thresholds to receive matching funds, compared to 64 percent of men. When you look at the at-large race, the disparity increases — only 22 percent of women have qualified, compared to 60 percent of men.
Politicos like to argue that strong campaigns will attract a strong base of supporters; however, we cannot just chalk this up to running less effective campaigns.
Until we reach parity, we need mechanisms to establish equity. Title IX supported advancements for girls and woman in sports and education. Similarly, political parties and organizations need to put equality into their structures. We do this locally: we vote for an equal number of men and women to serve in the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee and other political bodies. They may not be perfect, but it’s a step closer to parity and shifting the culture around gender and politics.
We need to adopt proven reforms that give voters the power to decide their elected leaders. Cities that use ranked choice voting, where voters rank their candidates in order of preference, have increased the number of women and people of color running and winning office. Pairing ranked choice voting with multimember districts (like the Maryland General Assembly) can increase the opportunities for women to run, win and serve.
Why does women’s representation matter? Because women are effective legislators who bring collaborative solutions. Whether we’re talking about health care, child care, business development or housing, it’s time for the voices of all in our community to be part of the decision-making process.
As we enter Women’s History Month, we have a long way to go on our journey toward equality. There is no single reform or change that will bring about gender parity; however, we must agitate for change at all levels. So, we welcome those latest female entrants to the sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit, and we say it’s time to challenge our current ways of thinking if we want to create a representative democracy in Montgomery County and beyond.
Brandy Brooks is the leadership development organizer for Progressive Maryland and at-large candidate for Montgomery County Council. She is endorsed by the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America.
Danielle Meitiv is a climate scientist, “free-range mom” and an at-large candidate for Montgomery County Council. She is endorsed by Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America and Montgomery County Sierra Club.