Women Usually Clean Up the Big Messes

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The Women’s March and Peace Fresno’s Organize for a Better Future coordinated a demonstration at the corner of Blackstone and Nees that drew thousands of Fresnans on Jan. 21, 2017. Photo by Simone Cranston-Rhodes

By Sheila Kennedy

Editor’s note: This article is republished with permission and was originally published at https://www.sheilakennedy.net/2017/10/women-are-always-the-ones-cleaning-up/.

The revelations about Harvey Weinstein—not to mention Bill Cosby, Donald Trump and a growing cast of other characters—have seemingly opened the floodgates of pent-up female anger. The #metoo hashtag on social media and the daily reports of confessions and accusations have been accompanied by a veritable tsunami of rage and recrimination.

Sex sells newspapers (or as we say these days, motivates clicks). But the attention paid to the problem isn’t just a way to sell media; the revelations are clearly newsworthy, and the anger is justifiable. Most women—especially those of us who entered the workforce as so-called pioneers—can relate. We all have our stories, and I’m not exempt.

On the other hand, we’ll be making a big mistake if our focus on sexual predators and harassment stories distracts from the emergence of another important wave of bipartisan feminine activism. I think it is fair to say that a huge number of American women saw the 2016 election results as an existential threat to women’s equality and the well-being of our children and grandchildren.

The Women’s March was the first signal that, like Howard Beale in Network, we were “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It was just the beginning. Recently, I moderated a couple of panels in a day-and-a-half training event called “Ready to Run.” It was geared to women interested in running for public office at any level, and sessions explored the basics of a political campaign research, fund-raising and messaging.

A couple of hundred women from all over filled the ballroom: They were Republicans and Democrats and Independents; White and Black and Brown; Muslim, Christian and Jewish. Most had never run for or held political office or thought they ever would. But they were thinking about it now. Seriously.

What struck me about the attendees and their interactions and questions was a repeated emphasis on what they wanted to accomplish—a government characterized by civility and integrity, two words I heard over and over.

There’s an old saying in political circles to the effect that men run for office because they want to be someone, and women run because they want to do something. That’s obviously an unfair generalization, but the women I met at Ready to Run clearly want to make government work again.

They understand government’s importance; they also understand that making government work properly will require research and knowledge, a familiarity with the operations of the agency or branch they propose to join, certainly, but also an understanding of the “big picture.” They are willing to study, to do the work necessary to acquire what I’ve sometimes called “constitutional competence,” a genuine understanding of our American approach to self-government.

A lot of women have just had it—both with the sexual predators who make it hard to do our jobs and with the preening and power-hungry politicians who are more invested in their own importance than in making government work for its citizens. And when women have had it, things change.

It’s like that refrigerator magnet says: “When momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

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Sheila Kennedy is a professor of law and policy in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. She is a faculty fellow with both the Center for Religion and American Culture in the School of Liberal Arts and the Tobias Center of the Kelley School of Business, and an adjunct professor of political science.