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In Brief

Why Gender Shouldn’t Matter in Politics

Women leaders take the myth and mystery out of governance.


A panel discussion among some of Massachusetts’ most politically astute women was the official kickoff event of the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy, which moved to BC Law last spring. This capstone fall event was titled “Breaking Barriers: Gender Politics in Government,” and explored ways to increase gender equity in leadership positions.

Elisabeth J. Medvedow, the center’s executive director, moderated the panel, which comprised US Representative Katherine Clark, former Governor Jane Swift, and former Lieutenant Governors Kerry Healey and Evelyn Murphy.

US Representative Katherine Clark
US Representative Katherine Clark

It’s clear that we need to elect more women, but women are “up against a lot,” said Clark, including often biased press coverage. “There’s an emphasis on appearance, and less coverage of the substantive work that women do.” She also cited online harassment of women and girls, and the internet backlash against anyone who talks out on feminist issues, a response that she labeled a form of harassment.

Swift agreed. It’s all about “hair, hemlines, and husbands” with women, she said, adding that if she were a man, she wouldn’t have made headlines as governor when she took a helicopter home from Boston to care for a sick child.

One deterrent for many women thinking of politics is funding political campaigns. Many buy into the myth that women can’t raise money. But the facts prove otherwise; women can raise money if they are willing to do so, Swift said. “Nobody will give money unless you ask, and no one will give more than what you ask for.”

Murphy observed that fundraising is one of the fundamentals of a campaign and women need to be more sophisticated about how they run things. “Mechanics matter,” she noted.

So does having more women writing the checks. “[This] provides access and ability to get their thoughts across,” Healey said.

Medvedow asked the panelists what can be done to engage more women in politics. They responded that women need to run for office or ask women to run or make it their business to support women who run. “Until women are in equal numbers [in government], Clark said, “we won’t be fulfilling the promise of democracy.”