Editorial: Women ‘lean in’ to politics

Published 10:02 pm Saturday, February 10, 2018

Ninety-eight years after getting the right to vote, women in the United States have finally decided to get involved in politics in a big way.

Brave women broke ground one by one in this male-dominated field long ago. But an unprecedented number of women have declared for congressional and statehouse posts this year — some 600 first-time candidates so far, the majority of the Democrats. A fundamental shift is taking place, and that’s a good thing.

Some of the impetus is clearly Donald Trump’s ascendancy. The election of a Republican president often inspires a new wave of Democratic candidates, and vice versa when a Democrat moves into the White House. But this is different. Women marched on Washington the day after Trump’s inauguration in protest. At the time people wondered, to what end? This season’s bumper crop of women candidates is part of the answer.

This comes five years after Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book urging women to “Lean In” and stop holding themselves back — and in the same year when #MeToo is shining a spotlight on sexual harassment.

The result of this increased political activism should be lawmaking bodies that more accurately reflect the country’s population, now 51 percent female, and include more women’s voices in important political debates.

Rowan County has strong examples of women who have succeeded in this realm:

• The late Jamima DeMarcus went from China Grove town board member to Democratic Party county chair and then became the first woman to win a seat on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.

• Charlotte Gardner of Salisbury was the first woman to represent Rowan County in the state House, where she practiced fiscal conservatism while advocating for children.

• Margaret Kluttz was the first woman to serve as Salisbury’s mayor, and Susan Kluttz was the city’s longest-serving mayor. Now Al Heggins is the first African-American woman to serve in that office.

• Elizabeth Dole may be the ultimate example, earning a law degree from Harvard and then going on to serve in the cabinets of two presidents, head the American Red Cross and win a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Now it’s time for a new generation to step up and make their voices heard. Voters won’t support a candidate just because she’s a woman or he’s a man, but rather because of good ideas, character and the ability to get things done. Those traits seem to be lacking at nearly all levels of government.