The Dangerous Mistake Women Make in Politics

Photo by Robert Locke on Unsplash

Show Business for Ugly People

A common aphorism tossed around for decades by political commentators is “Politics is show business for ugly people.” It usually gets a laugh and a nod that it’s strangely true. The man often credited with originating the phrase is Paul Begala, chief strategist to Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Perhaps there’s some truth to Begalia’s crude quip that he never took the time to fully understand. Harvey Weinstein might be able to help him figure it out. It may be because those who look less sought-after are less likely to become targets. Perhaps the ones who attract too much attention never stood a chance.

Drowning in a Sea of People

Women in public service should heed a critical warning from Lewinsky’s experience and #MeToo observations. Currently, you’re on your own. There will be no cavalcade to come save you if a man takes advantage of you. Even some of the strongest women you know will be too afraid of the political and economic repercussions of being associated with you, to stand by you. In fact, you will likely find yourself drowning in a sea of people. And, like Lewinsky, you might not feel like you breathe again for years, or decades.

The Price Women Pay to be in Politics

Every person in politics has a political price and a currency. But feminine currency is different than men’s. When a man goes into business or politics he transacts his masculine currency: his wealth or his influence. His influence can be his name, his knowledge, his time, his connections, his ego, his brand, his resources, or (as politics can currently attest) his wrath. Even his own press. Women wield these currencies as well but we have far less and it often comes with strings, which we will discuss next.

Monica Lewinsky at the 2014 International Documentary Association’s IDA Awards held at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Mingle Media TV, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Women Still Rely on Male Currency but Men Don’t Need Ours

Look at the women who have made their mark in the world and then look at the currency of the husbands and fathers around them. Rarely will women get to where they are without masculine currency but men can go as far as they’d like in their professional careers without ours. We even work to help them get there. We cook his meals, change his children’s diapers and even do his boring administrative work so that he has time to work more efficiently and get paid exponentially more than we do, if we are paid at all. If and when we refuse these labors, powerful men simply contract them out.

Not All Feminine Assets Are Seen, Nor Should They Be

It is critical that women do a full analysis of their assets. Not all assets are financial but they can still generate wealth. But sometimes what we think is an advantage is actually a liability. (I plan to explain this in greater detail in my next piece so please follow me.)

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Arrive, Be Present, But Not Seen

So how do women survive in a political world controlled by men? I didn’t know what “stoop to conquer” meant until I ran for office and a female political advisor saw that I was making the mistake of being “too strong” and I was branded as “uppity”. We must swallow all desire for our actual abilities to be recognized and valued. Paradoxically we must also struggle to assert ourselves enough in a field that still often refuses to fully see us. If you find this upsetting, you’re not alone. It is.

Survivor and strategist who is passionate about getting more women and underrepresented leaders into positions of power. Chin up. Our best days are ahead of us.

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