The Art of Running for Office as a Woman, Circa 1990
Yes, the playbook has changed. But less than we'd like to think.
Jewel Lansing, author of 101 Campaign Tips for Women Candidates and Their Staffs, isn't making it up when she tells women what it takes to run for political office. Now in her 80s, Lansing, who was the first woman ever elected to government office for Multnomah County and the fifth-ever elected to serve in the city of Portland, Ore., says she felt a burning desire to write about her experience and help future generations of women.
The book of hard-nosed advice was published in conjunction with her memoir, Campaigning for Office: A Woman Runs, and features anecdotes from scores of American women's races. "It's not intended to be a how-to manual," Lansing told National Journal of her collected lessons published in 1991. "It's more giving a broad overview of what to look at and what to expect."
Although groups like EMILY's List currently help fund and groom female candidates from behind the scenes, Lansing's book marks the last time anyone wrote publically and comprehensively about the art of the female candidate's political campaign. The country's come a long way since then. At the time Jewel was writing (around 1990), women made up just 2 percent of the U.S. Senate and 6 percent of Congress overall. Those numbers are now 20 percent and 19 percent, respectively.
What follows are 12 of the 101 tips in Lansing's playbook, as selected by National Journal.
1. Visualize yourself in the role of candidate for months, even years before you run.
2. Be sure you have the "fire in your belly" to run.
3. Recognize that deciding when and if to run is the hardest, and most important, decision you will make.
4. Understand you will need to be waited upon--an especially difficult lesson for female candidates, their families, and their staffs to learn.
5. Be prepared to deal with gender as a factor in political races for the foreseeable future.
6. Avoid falling for the "ladies first" ploy; it is not to your advantage on the speaker's platform with your opponent.
7. Anticipate enormous curiosity about your relationship with your spouse or partner.
8. Find a part-time housekeeper before the campaign crunch hits.
9. Upgrade your wardrobe and consider it a hidden, but unavoidable, personal campaign cost.
10. Live your personal life as if the details will show up in the morning paper.
11. Know you will be criticized; it is an unavoidable and unending rite of passage to seeking and serving in public office.
12. View yourself as a lightbulb everyone else needs to touch for energy and recharging.
Lansing's strategies are directed at political candidates, but many of them can be applied to women seeking leadership roles in any realm. Women candidates, she observed at the time, need to be better organized than men, give more thought to how their family relationships will be viewed by others, and overcome confining stereotypes and labels such as "shrill," "bitchy," and "sweet."
Her book culls not just from her own experience but from the thoughts of politicians and journalists of the day.
Among them is former Vermont Gov. Madeline Kunin. What is difficult for women to acquire, Kunin told an audience at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1989, is "a comfort level with power itself." The public, Kunin observed, is accustomed to seeing boys fight. "Girls are not supposed to."
Ann Richards, who served as governor of Texas from 1991 to 1995, hoped to lead by example. "There will be a lot of little girls who open their history texts to see my picture ... and they will say, 'If she can do it, so can I.' "
Also quoted is New York Times columnist William Safire, who argued at the time that, all other things being equal, women should always support women over the other gender until some sort of parity is achieved:
Not enough women are candidates, and too few of those are winning. Why? The power of incumbency is an excuse, as is the tug of tradition and the demands of raising children. The reason, however, is a dismaying lack of assertiveness of group identity ... other things being roughly equal, women should strongly support women as women until some parity is reached. Then, secure in a system in balance, they can throw the rascals out regardless of sex.
While many of Landsing's suggestions, such as her insistence on ignoring the " 'ladies first' ploy," may feel dated, what's more interesting is how many of them still ring true.
She writes: "Your friend and enemies will wonder, whether or not they ask you directly: Who's cooking the meals? Cleaning house? How does your husband like being Mr. Sally Brown?" Those questions aren't so different from questions Sheryl Sandberg wrote about in her recent book, Lean In, possibly the closest contemporary corollary to Lansing's advice book. In it Sandberg talks about the subtle sexism expressed in questions directed at her about "work-life balance" and whether being so successful "is hard on her husband."
In some places, Sandberg and Lansing's advice diverges. Sandberg would disagree, for example, with the advice to actively seek out a mentor. "Working on a campaign as a volunteer or paid staff member is an ideal way to get started in politics," writes Lansing. "Talk to women officials in your area whom you admire, and seek their backing."
Sandberg, meanwhile, would caution against seeking out a mentor too aggressively. In a chapter titled "Don't Ask Anyone To Be Your Mentor," she recounts an instance when a young woman she'd never met before randomly came up to her and asked her to be a mentor, calling it a "total mood-killer." If you want "excessive hand-holding," Sandberg says, that's a therapist's job.
Lansing's book is now out of print, but if you happen to pick up a used copy on Amazon, you might be surprised how much it has to teach you.