Women In Government Foundation, Inc., headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a national, non-profit, non-partisan organization of women state legislators that provides leadership opportunities, networking expert forums, and educational resources to address and resolve complex public policy issues to all 1,783 women state legislators.
In recent weeks, several parents have called out big national chain stores for their poor selection of girls’ Halloween costumes, including this one. Melissa Wardy of the blog Pigtail Pal & Ballcap Buddies wrote a great piece a few years ago summing up the problem. Unfortunately there are too many “sexy” costumes for young girls and never any that help girls exercise their own power.
So how about giving your daughter – or son! – costume ideas based on a real woman public leader? Here’s a round-up of some of our favorite costumes and costume ideas, plus some reading suggestions to help you both learn about these important trailblazers.
1) Supreme Court Justice
This baby blows us away with his Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg costume. Three other women have also served on the nation’s highest court: Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Elena Kagan, and former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Any of these women would be fine choice for a girl looking to make her own case.
For inspiration, read: Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, Sonia Sotomayor’s My Beloved World, For young kids, check out Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the Bronx.
2) Madam President
Does your little one have presidential aspirations? Fortunately there are a number of women to choose from, including current candidates Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina.
Many other women have run for president in US history, including Carol Moseley Braun and Shirley Chisholm. [We can’t get enough of the Because of Them We Can series featuring girls dressed as famous Black women leaders. Check out their site and get some amazing posters!]
Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for the US presidency. There are also several women currently serving as presidents in other countries, including Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. Wilma Mankiller was the first woman to serve as chief of the Cherokee Nation.
For inspiration, read: Chisholm’s Unbought and Unbossed or Sirleaf’s This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President. For kids, read: A Woman for President: The Story of Victoria Woodhull; Madam President: Five Women Who Paved the Way; or Ballots for Belva: The True Story of a Woman’s Race for the Presidency.
In this country’s history, 37 women have served as governors in 27 states. Nellie Tayloe Ross of Wyoming was the first woman to serve as governor in the United States when she was elected in 1925.
There are six women currently serving as governors: Mary Fallin (R-OK), Nikki Haley (R-SC), Susana Martinez (R-NM), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kate Brown (D-OR), and Gina Raimondo (D-RI).
For inspiration, read the autobiographies of past women governors, including Up the Capitol Steps: A Woman’s March to the Governorship by former Oregon governor Barbara Roberts and Straight from the Heart: My Life in Politics & Other Places by former Texas governor Ann Richards.
4) Member of Congress
There are plenty of women trailblazers in US Congress to pick from.
Patsy Mink was the first woman of color and first Asian woman to serve in the US House of Representatives. Barbara Jordan was the first Black woman elected to Congress from the deep South.
For inspiration, read: A Heart in Politics: Jeannette Rankin and Patsy T. Mink and Barbara Jordan: American Hero.
The new Suffragette movie reminds us that many women fought for our right to have a voice in our democrazy. Girls and young women can pick specific woman suffragists to emulate or simply be themselves.
For inspiration, read: Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. For kids, read: You Want Women to Vote, Lizzie Stanton?, Marching with Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Suffrage.
Happy trick or treating!
This Father’s Day, I hope dads and daughters will experience politics together. Research shows that young men are more likely than women to be socialized by their parents to consider politics a viable career path. But that can change. With 2016 around the corner and female presidential candidates running from across the political spectrum, there’s no better time for young women to get involved in our participatory democracy—and make it a father-daughter bonding opportunity! Your daughters are never too young to learn about their role in American government. Ready to plunge into politics? Here are 11 ways you can empower your daughter to amplify her voice and take part in the democratic process.
1. Bring your daughter to the polls. Election Day is also Take Your Daughter to Vote Day. Show her how to fill out a ballot and explain why it’s important to participate in our democracy. Snap a picture of you and your daughter at your polling place and share it on Twitter with #TakeYourDaughtertoVoteDay. Instill in your daughter a sense of civic duty. When John Mayer wrote his famous hit “Daughters,” I think he was really going for these lyrics:
So fathers, go vote with your daughters,
Daughters will vote if you do.
Girls become voters, who turn into civic motors,
So fathers, take your daughters to vote with you.
2. Talk about politics and ask your daughter for her opinion. As you read the Sunday paper (or scroll through headlines on your iPad), ask your daughter about her thoughts on the day’s events. When you pass the potatoes at the dinner table, exchange ideas about domestic and global affairs. What do you think about [insert issue]? How could our community be better? If you were president, what would you do first?
3. Watch political TV shows and films together, especially ones featuring strong female leads. As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Role models have a powerful influence on people’s sense of possibility. Watch Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina’s videos announcing their presidential campaigns. Use this #MarchtoParity Women in Politics Media Guide as a starting place for your movie marathon. Highlight women in the world making major contributions—they just might ignite your daughter’s political ambitions.
4. Read about women political leaders and women’s history—together. Former presidential candidate and Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder once said that more women would run for office, if they only knew their history. Go to the local library and check out books on women suffragists and abolitionists, veterans and civil rights legends. Teach a Girl to Lead, a project of the Center for American Women in Politics, has a digital library of books you can put on your reading list.
5. Get involved in your community. Sixty percent of women in the 113th Congress were once Girl Scouts. Needless to say, early engagement in local and neighborhood issues catalyzed women’s early political awakenings. Look up programs in your community that will allow your daughter to tap into her civic spirit—and join her if you can! Bonus: Watch Girl Scouts interview members of Congress in their Portraits in Leadership series.
6. Take your daughter canvassing. If you’re going door-knocking, take your daughter with you. At age five, former US Senator Mary Landrieu accompanied her father on the campaign trail for his state legislature race. She recalls learning the ropes of campaigning in her childhood: “My little knuckles used to hurt knocking on the doors, so my father would give me a rock to use. I’d tap on the door and say, ‘Hello, I’m Mary Landrieu, and this is my dad.’” Likewise, when she was 13, Hillary Clinton canvassed for a presidential campaign. These early experiences clearly cultivate women’s interest in and commitment to politics down the line.
7. Write a letter to or arrange a visit with your local representative. We live in a participatory democracy, but we often forget to communicate with our government, other than on Election Day. Encourage your daughter to send a letter to your local representative, or visit him/her in person. As a young woman, Senator Susan Collins met then-Senator Margaret Chase Smith in the US Senate Youth Program in Washington and never forgot the experience. Collins now holds the seat once occupied by Smith.
8. Encourage your daughter to play competitive sports. Politics is a contact sport. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was a college squash player, Senator Kelly Ayotte was a competitive skier, and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a martial artist and avid surfer. Research from Professor Jennifer Lawless at American University suggests that women who play competitive sports are more likely to express an interest running for office later in life. Lawless explains that key leadership lessons are taught out on the field, including “the ability to compete and the willingness to lose.”
9. Ask your daughter about student government and debate programs at school. Learn about what civic opportunities are offered by your daughter’s school or locally. Student government and debate experience can pave pathways to public service. After all, Senator Susan Collins was the president of her high school, and Senator Elizabeth Warren was named Oklahoma’s top high school debater. If the school doesn’t offer these programs, explore opportunities with your daughter and community members for creating them.
10. Take a field trip to a historic site for women in politics. The next time you sit down to plan a family vacation, think about going to a place where women made history. Visit Rosa Parks’ statue in DC or one of the women’s history sites identified by the National Register of Historic Places. Teach a Girl to Lead has a database of places you can explore that celebrate women’s history.
11. Throw a president party instead of a princess party. As Political Parity Director Marni Allen notes in “Senator, Not Cinderella”, she’s never heard of anyone throwing a young girl a president party. You could change that! For your daughter’s next birthday, consider having a political-themed party with celebratory slogans, birthday buttons and bumper stickers, and even voting booths, where party attendees can vote for historical female presidential candidates. Wrap gifts in political newspapers, and have a star-spangled time!
Sadie Nash Leadership Project was founded in 2001 to promote leadership and activism among young women. The program is designed to strengthen, empower, and equip young women as agents for change in their lives and in the world. By increasing the participation of women in social, political, and economic decision-making, SNLP seeks to question and redefine the nature of leadership and to promote perspectives and practices that are cooperative, accountable, ethical, and effective.
The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) at Chatham University is a non–partisan center devoted to fostering women’s public leadership through education, empowerment, and action. The first to focus on women’s political involvement in Pennsylvania, the Center integrates disciplinary knowledge, civic education, and coalition building while examining the intersection of women and public policy. The Center conducts candidate and advocacy trainings, offers educational programs in applied politics, and provides timely analysis on women’s issues.
Women Lead Arkansas is a non-partisan non-profit whose MISSION is to empower women and girls to engage in politics, policy and leadership. Providing tools and resources for women will increase opportunities for economic development; improve education and healthcare for everyone; and give more women a seat at the table, so they can share the responsibility of shaping public policy in Arkansas.
My husband and I went holiday shopping for our three young daughters the other day. Our first stop was a popular big box retail store. After taking care of a few other items, I found him in one of the toy aisles with a perplexed look on his face. He was standing in front of the section of Star Wars toys – in particular looking for action figures from the new Star Wars Rebels series. If you don’t know, Star War Rebels was launched earlier this year as an animated show taking place five years before the original Star Wars movie series. For my Star Wars super-fan husband, that was exciting enough. But what pleased both of us is that two of the five main characters are women – and strong, impressive women at that. Sabine Wren and Hera Syndulla are smart, capable, and always in the middle of the action. Our almost 8-year old and almost 6-year old daughters love those characters and the show. They constantly act out being Hera and Sabine. How great is that? We both were thrilled with Lucasfilm for creating these characters our daughters can see themselves in.
Back to the holiday gift shopping. Not a single Star Wars Rebels action figure or toy at the store featured these female characters. My husband was looking carefully at the tags where items sold out to see if they were just out of stock. No luck – they just weren’t available to purchase in the first place. Next we headed to the mall to continue with our shopping. We were hopeful we would find some stuff at the Disney store. But no such luck – nothing we saw in the Star Wars Rebels section contained the female characters. In fact, one of the boys’ t-shirts for sale featured all the male characters, but none of the women. What the heck? It’s just as bothersome that the boys’ items leave the women off – boys need to see women as strong leaders too. When I got home, I did some research and found out that Disney and Hasbro had been called out on this issue by several bloggers and the Twitterverse. You can read more here, here, and here. The good news is that the next round of action figures and toys will include Hera and Sabine…but I guess not in time for this holiday season. That’s a real shame and a missed opportunity.
One of the big reasons the Center for American Women and Politics launched Teach a Girl to Lead™ was because we know “you can’t be what you can’t see.” What my husband and I experienced in the shopping aisle is typical in classrooms. American history textbooks continue to emphasize the pivotal roles of men in U.S. history, but gloss over, or skip entirely, the contributions of women. One study found that in one of the most commonly-used second-grade textbooks, less than a quarter of the historical figures mentioned are women, and far fewer pages are devoted to the women than to the men (up to 5 pages of mentions for women leaders, while the men receive up to 22 pages worth of mentions.) It doesn’t get better as the students get older; in a popular high school history book, female historical figures are only 13% of those mentioned, and those women are mentioned, at most, on 6 pages, while some of the men were mentioned on as many as 36 pages. In their book Failing at Fairness: How America’s Schools Cheat Girls, researchers Myra and David Sadker noted: “When girls do not see themselves in the pages of textbooks…our daughters learn that to be female is to be an absent partner in the development of our nation.”
If girls don’t see women leaders highlighted and showcased right along with men, how will they grow up thinking they can be leaders themselves? And if boys don’t see women showcased, how will they grow up thinking that leaders can look like their mothers, their sisters, and their female friends? What messages are we sending our kids? We can do better than this.
If you are looking for great gifts celebrating women’s leadership for the girls and boys in your life, check our ally A Mighty Girl. Their site is chock-full of terrific ideas and awesome products to cultivate the strong, confident girls in your life (including some Star Wars products!) On our Teach a Girl to Lead™ site, you can also find suggested books and films featuring women public leaders to enjoy with your kids over the winter break. Or get the kids out of the house and visit one of the places celebrating women’s leadership on the Programs & Places Map.
Kids believe what they see, and I’m going to make sure my girls see women leaders as much as they can. At least they can watch the Star Wars Rebels show with these great characters, even if they can’t play with the toys they wanted yet. Every step counts, so onward we go.
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated was founded in 1920 on the belief that the social nature of sorority life should not overshadow the real mission for progressive organizations to address societal mores, ills, prejudices, poverty, and health concerns of the day. The international organization’s 125,000+ initiated members, operating in more than 850 chapters, have given millions of voluntary hours to educate the public, provide scholarships, support organized charities, and promote legislation for social and civic change.
The United States Association of Former Members of Congress utilizes the unique skill sets of its 600 members to provide pro bono public service programs and initiatives both at home and abroad. Using the expertise of its membership, FMC has created programs to educate about the role of Congress, assist Congress in its international relations, and support emerging democracies abroad, all while providing opportunities for members to stay connected with their colleagues.