Columnist Mary Olberding: Seminal moment for women in electoral politics

  • Women’s March LA in front of City Hall in Los Angeles on Jan. 21, 2017.  TNS FILE PHOTO

Published: 1/16/2018 8:57:39 PM

The new year has barely started and expectations are high that 2018 will be the “Year of the Woman” with unprecedented numbers running for office.

This is a seminal moment in female electoral politics.

The fury ignited by the 2016 election reminds me of Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch in the movie “Network,” who famously declared: “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Anger in the age of Donald Trump has sparked a level of civic engagement not seen by people of my generation — and for women, maybe ever.

This last year has been both remarkable and unpredictable. It began with “pussy hats” and the Women’s March on Washington channeling our collective outrage and ended with the liberation and empowerment of the #MeToo movement.

Unlike the claim of 1992 as the “Year of the Woman” in response to Anita Hill’s testimony about sexual harassment by Clarence Thomas, this new year begins at a time when women’s experience in society has been personalized as never before. The greater issue of how power is used to keep down those without it was exposed and laid bare by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer — and Donald Trump.

Forty years after “Network” railed against the blurred lines between reality and entertainment, we have a reality TV star as president.

And, thanks to the gluttony of social media, we are fed a daily diet of indignation with every tweet — increasing the urgency and intensity of our efforts.

Women make up 51 percent of the population but only 20 percent of our Legislature here in Massachusetts and in Washington, which is a disparity felt most acutely at this moment.

The expression “If you are not at the table, you’re what’s on the menu” comes to mind. Women, most definitely, are not at the Trump table.

A Nov. 13, 2017, article in the Daily Beast, “It’s Reigning Men,” reported that more than 80 percent of all of Trump’s nominees are male. It further states that “Trump has nominated 282 men for high ranking cabinet positions compared to 77 women.” The article also quotes the Center for American Women and Politics study which found that Trump has the lowest percentage of top-level nominations of women since 1977.

The policies and practices of this administration, including the tax cut it championed in 2017, have demonstrated a complete disregard for how today’s critical issues affect women’s lives.

But no one knows it if we don’t say it and no one will listen if we are not there to say it. We cannot expect the world to change unless we change it. We can rally. We can protest. But until we legislate, nothing will change. And to do that, we must have a seat at the table. We must get elected.

A true year of the woman will only come when electing women is so common that it is no longer extraordinary.

Mary Olberding, of Belchertown, is the Hampshire County Register of Deeds. She serves on the board of directors for Emerge Massachusetts, an organization whose mission is to train Democratic women to run for office.

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