Of the dozens of San Diegans running or contemplating running for mayor in the upcoming special election to replace Bob Filner – only one woman, former state Assemblywoman Lori Saldana, has emerged as a possible major candidate.
This provides a window into a larger problem.
Women only make up 19 percent of Congress and 23 percent of statewide elected positions across the country. The number of women in statewide office is almost identical to the percentage reported in 1993, according to the New York Times. That number ticked up to 28 percent in 2001, but it has been in a steady decline ever since.
Women didn’t fare well in recent elections in Los Angeles and New York, either. The Los Angeles Times offered a disheartening rationale: “The argument can be made that the expansion of visible female politicians – their number in the Senate is at a record high – has effectively lessened the stakes for individual women running for office. Why sweat electing a woman as mayor … when both your senators and most of your congressional delegation members are female?”
There are plenty of reasons why the stagnation of women in elected office should give us all pause. For one, elected bodies made up mostly of men continue to make decisions about how women should live their lives.
Filner’s sexual harassment scandal highlights another reason: More women at the top would help end the culture of silence that enables sexual harassment to go unreported and unaddressed.
During the six-week Filner saga, I spoke with many female friends about their experiences, and was amazed that almost every woman I spoke with could easily recount a personal experience involving sexual harassment – myself included. Despite how inappropriate this conduct can be, it’s virtually impossible to speak out about such conduct when the person harassing you controls your livelihood and can shape your professional reputation.
That is why Donna Frye’s actions are heroic. She had the extraordinary courage to come forward and speak publicly about Filner’s inappropriate conduct. In so doing, she gave a voice to the many women who could not speak out and paved the way for victims to come forward. This is even more impressive when you view this in the broader political context in which Frye chose to speak out – Frye is a lifelong Democrat, supported Filner’s mayoral campaign and worked in his administration after he was elected.
We need more women like Frye who are willing to step forward even when it’s uncomfortable. That is why Run Women Run, a non-partisan political action committee focused on electing pro-choice women in San Diego, is honoring Frye on Sept. 16.
Frye told me: “Our recent experience has shown us that sexual harassment and abuse of power is still a problem and that more needs to be done to educate people about this issue. Run Women Run provides us an opportunity to discuss solutions in a non-partisan, rational way and recognizes the importance of supporting women who are interested in changing the status quo. I appreciate their standing up for all women and especially appreciate this special recognition.”
Frye is a perfect example of why it is important to have women at the table – she had the courage to speak out so that others could speak up.
Jamie Quient co-chairs the Run Women Run Political Action Committee and is a member of the group’s executive committee.