Want fewer embarrassing, distracting sex scandals? Elect more women.
Ann Richards said it best when she admonished the leadership of the Democratic Party with her line, "If you give us a chance, we can perform. After all, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels." Richards was referring to the delay between Rep. Barbara Jordan being in 1976 the first woman to deliver the keynote address at a party convention and her own appearance 12 years later. Today, lots of people are asking, wouldn't we all be better off if more women were given a chance to perform?
This question is made more relevant with the recent (and continuing) actions of Gov. Mark Sanford. His affair and lies are the latest example of failed leadership at the highest levels of government coming at a time when the American people are hurting. In her book Why Women Should Rule the World, Dee Dee Myers says, "I'm confident predicting there would be fewer sex scandals if women were in power ... I don't think Hillary Clinton is going to be hitting on the intern." There is no need to put women on a pedestal, but it's worth examining this assertion.
We need leaders for whom the people—not power—come first. And power over principle is often what affairs like Sanford's and former Gov. Eliot Spitzer's are all about. The "Luv Guvs" as some tabloids have called them put their own needs, wants, and desires before those of their constituents. Sanford's never ending confession shows he just doesn't get it. He says it was a matter of "love" that "started innocently" but then led to "a spark thing." How much leadership could possibly be occurring when seemingly every day he provides more details about his juvenile, meandering swoons?
Female officeholders seem to be less involved in sex scandals than their male counterparts. While partially explained by the numbers, there are fewer women in elected office to get involved in sex scandals. It's also true that women tend to be proficient multitaskers and are more often the caregivers of the house. They are too busy being leaders, mothers, wives, and workers to worry about how they can "blow off some steam," as Sanford put it. In fact, research conducted at UCLA shows that women react very differently from men to stress. Scientists have found that women under stress experience a cascade of brain chemicals that cause them to create and maintain friendships with other women. Men do not experience this calming effect.
In her seminal work, In a Different Voice, feminist author Carol Gilligan said women's moral reasoning differs from that of males. She says women focus more on relationships and looking out for the most vulnerable. She calls it an "ethic of care" that tends to consider more long-term consequences. With all the challenges facing our nation today, this sounds like an ethic we desperately need. And ironically it sounds like the very ethic we see in Jenny Sanford.
Women have had other gubernatorial opportunities in states where scandal and corruption have reigned. Jodi Rell took over in Connecticut when the incumbent was indicted. And she was overwhelmingly re-elected running on a platform of ethics and education. Sarah Palin first came to statewide attention in Alaska by challenging her own party's legislators on corruption charges in the oil and gas industry. Why not consider Ms. Sanford as a replacement for her husband? She seems to have the values, mettle, and smarts for the job. Perhaps recent events will encourage the voters of South Carolina to elect a chief executive of the female persuasion. The state has the dubious distinction of being rock bottom in the number of women serving in the state legislature and there has never been a woman governor. One wonders, would a woman governor have turned down federal dollars for schools?
The idea of more women in leadership is gaining greater currency. The consensus before President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court was that the best man for the job would be a woman. The need for woman's voices is echoed by Swanee Hunt, cofounder of Women Moving Millions, a global women's philanthropic fund. Asked if women would be able to save today's economy, Hunt replied, "You mean, what if it had been Lehman Sisters?... I do believe that if 50 percent of the financial community had been female, the judgment would have been more solid."
Governor Sanford's exploits provide at least one strong argument for electing more women, but there are many more reasons to include 52 percent of the population in leading our nation. Women's experience, expectations, and lives are just ... different. Currently, seven women serve as governor (and it will be six after Palin leaves office later this month), down from a record high of nine in 2007. Several very qualified women are eyeing gubernatorial seats in the 2010 election cycle in states like New Mexico and Florida. Let's give them the chance to perform.
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Christine Jahnke is the president of Positive Communications (www.poscom.com), which has provided public speaking and message training for hundreds of women candidates across the nation. She is completing a book that profiles exemplary women political leaders.