The presenters put together thoughtful and thorough research about the participation of women in state legislative elections and also the level of ambition to work towards the House of Representatives. One study demonstrated that the presence of women in positions of power at the state or congressional level helped to spur the ambitioon of others. If a role model exists, it helps other women gain the confidence to run. Fortunately the West Virginia Republican Party has multiple models of female leadership that have inspired a lot of women to push ahead in elected office.
Most importantly our women leaders ran on experience, competence, and leadership. No one ever ran on the fact that they were women. They paid their dues, showing the same resilience and ability as anyone else, earning respect through success and/or setbacks. More are on their way up.
After treating the room with the shock that the chair for the Gender and Politics Panel had actively worked for Republican candidates and party groups for the past six years (this was after a couple of remarks on Sarah Palin and really, the look of surprise on some faces was hilarious) I was able to tell them that their research basically reflected what I had seen in the real political world. They claimed that there is little or no actual gender discrimination across the board for either party. Women tend to participate less often than men for a variety of reasons, mostly stemming from the choices they themselves make. In other words, men do not try to shut women out.
Nationally the Republican Party and conservatives in general have tremendously successful models in different fields of active and aggressive women. The panel did not even mention Michelle Bachman of Minnesota or the columnists Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter. Many women in politics embrace a different kind of feminism based on expanding opportunity and choice rather than forcing all women to conform to a certain image.
Women will continue to play an expanding role in politics at every level. West Virginia Republicans have jumped ahead of peers in many other states. Already some are calling 2012 "the year of Shelley Moore Capito." Betty Ireland also has a wide variety of options open after a very successful tenure as Secretary of State. These women and others are poised to play a major role in the coming party shift in the Mountain State.