We need female political role models

There needs to be more focus on positive female politicians.

Sam Jasenosky

St. Paul held a mayoral forum last week for candidates to speak to constituents. Out of the four candidates present, one of them was visibly different from the rest: Sharon Anderson.

Wearing an eye patch and referring to “Ciley Myrus,” Anderson was hard to take seriously. Even incumbent mayor Chris Coleman was laughing throughout her unusual comments.

Anderson, the only female candidate present at the forum, didn’t even answer the questions posed to her. When she was asked about the condition of city infrastructure, Anderson didn’t answer the question and said she supported legalizing marijuana and prostitution.

Though many who watched the forum know Anderson’s outlandish statements aren’t representative of most female politicians, my immediate concern was for impressionable viewers.

Specifically, I worried about young girls who see Anderson and think she’s an example of a serious female politician.

Even people who don’t keep up with politics noticed the forum. Friends of mine from St. Paul, who are uninterested in politics, posted links to videos of the forum on Facebook because of Anderson’s bizarre demeanor.

In Minneapolis, the female candidates for mayor are much more realistic role models. Betsy Hodges was responsible for reforms that saved Minneapolis from $20 million in potential property tax increases. Jackie Cherryhomes served as president of the Minneapolis City Council for eight years.

The issue isn’t that positive female politician role models don’t exist — Minneapolis’ candidates prove they do. The problem is that sensational candidates like Anderson receive more media attention than some realistic candidates like Hodges and Cherryhomes.

Twenty years ago next week, Sharon Sayles Belton was elected mayor of Minneapolis. Sayles Belton was the city’s first African-American and first woman to be elected mayor. Under Sayles Belton’s office, crime rates were at their lowest in decades. Her office also brought Target to Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis, which improved the local economy.

In fact, her accomplishments were so beneficial to Minneapolis that Mayor R.T. Rybak announced in February that the renovated Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired bridge over Interstate 94 would be named the Sharon Sayles Belton Bridge.

Women like Sayles Belton, Hodges and Cherryhomes are the kinds of female political candidates that should garner media attention.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report for 2013, the United States is ranked 60th in the world for women in politics, meaning 59 other countries have done better jobs of closing the gender gap in politics than we have. The U.S. doesn’t even make the list of the top 20 countries overall (economic equality, health, education, etc.) for women.

We live in a country where women are half the population yet don’t even hold 100 seats in Congress.

The message sent out to young girls who see Anderson’s crazy escapades is that this is what the country thinks of female politicians: They’re eccentric, they’re sensational and they wear tacky pirate gear in professional settings.

It’s bad enough that a multitude of factors embedded in our culture already work against encouraging young girls to seek positions of power. We don’t need the media to emphasize the outlandishness of one female politician even more.

Instead, young girls should be exposed to the great strides that women like Hodges and Cherryhomes aim to make for their city.