Last month, my ward in Philadelphia hosted a candidate's forum for the city council at large seats in Philadelphia. Democrats are capped at a maximum of five at large seats in the city council, and this year there is an exceptionally large number of challengers running to unseat the incumbents. At our forum, a total of fourteen candidates showed up, including twelve challengers. One thing a number of us noticed during the forum was how all of the candidates were men. Towards the very end, one woman did show up, but for most of the night is was just a lot of dudes sitting in a row. And it isn't just the at-large races where male candidates proliferate in Philadelphia. Much of the same can be found in the local district races, where all but one of the strong challengers, Maria Quinones Sanchez, to sitting incumbents on city council are men.
I am not really sure what to make of this, but it certainly does seem odd to me that most of the Democratic, "progressive movement" candidates in both local areas like Philadelphia, and national areas like prominent, Act Blue fundraising pages for high trafficked blogs are male. And by "most," I mean more than a supermajority. Looking back at the 2006 electoral cycle, off-hand I can only think of nine women candidates for federal office who made positive waves throughout a wide swath of the progressive netroots: Christine Cegalis in IL-06, Victoria Wulsin in OH-02, Darcy Burner in WA-08, Linda Stender in NJ-07, Francine Busby in CA-50, Donna Edwards in MD-04, Angie Paccione in CO-04, Lois Murphy in PA-06; and Kirsten Gillibrand in NY-20. By contrast, there were around three or four-dozen male candidates who drew regular, prominent, positive attention from the progressive netroots. I'm not going to list them all here, because I don't want the length of the list, or quibbles over who belongs on the list, to dominate discussion. But I do think it is fair to say that there is about a 3-1 or 4-1 male-female ratio among "progressive movement candidates," no matter how that term is defined.
Now, the percentage of women among "progressive movement candidates," is pretty similar to the overall percentage of Democratic candidates for, and elected officials in, federal office. Right now, that percentage is about 22% (click here for a complete list
). Thus, the situation online may simply be the result of problems already present within the overall progressive ecosystem, rather than new causes specific to the progressive netroots and progressive movement. However, while one would think that much of the imbalance is slowly being corrected over time, that no longer seems to be the case. Even after a wave election such as 2006, with only nine of forty-one freshman House Democrats being female, and only two of nine freshman Senate Democrats being female, women actually make up virtually the same percentage of Democrats in Congress that they made up before the election. That points to stagnation and a potential plateau, not continued progress. Considering the male-female ratio of the candidates we end up strongly supporting, the progressive netroots and progressive movement might actually be contributing to this stagnation and plateau, rather than combating it.
I want to make it clear that this post is mainly trying to ask a question, rather than arguing that there is an inherent problem in our movement that we must correct. Why is it that we in the progressive netroots seem to end up throwing our activist and media weight behind male candidates far more often than we do so for female candidates? Or, to put it another way: what's up with all the dude movement candidates? I think it is useful to ask the question in that phrasing, because in many instances movement candidates quite literally are "dudes," and not just more generally male. Are we simply a reflection of problems that arise elsewhere? Is it an indication that the personal and cultural characteristics the progressive netroots both displays and tends to look for in candidates--fighting Dems, bar fight primaries, straight-talking combativeness--skew masculine? Is it a simple statistical fluke? Is it somehow a combination of these factors, in that the personal characteristics we look for in candidates are not viewed as positive attributes by the electorate when those same attributes are displayed by women candidates? Is it something else entirely?
I honestly don't know. I also know that a candidate's gender is not a factor I at least directly
take into account when evaluating candidates to support, and I can't imagine that changing. My suspicion is that the problem lies in indirect, cultural aspects of both the progressive netroots and the American political scene in general. However, that is just a vague guess. I would like to hear your thoughts on the matter. Why are so many "progressive movement candidates" male? It is a reasonable question, and it deserves to be discussed. To simply bristle at the notion that this issue doesn't need discussion would be a very, very bad sign.