When I was ten years old and entering an all-boys baseball league, my dad bought me a t-shirt from a local sporting goods store that read “Girls Dominate.” It had been one of many girl-power themed shirts, but this one was particularly relevant given that it had a baseball in the place of an “O.” I proudly displayed it at my first practice, reassured that even though I may have been the only girl on the team, I had the support and encouragement from my family, not to mention an entire manufacturing company that had decided it was okay for girls to dominate in baseball. I felt proud, and maybe even a bit superior; after all, no one had made a boys dominate shirt. It was pretty cool to be a girl playing a “boy’s sport.”
Twelve years later, I sit at my intern desk on Capitol Hill and read an article that casually mentions the fact that there have been thirty-eight female Senators in United States history. Thirty-eight. That’s it. Ever, in our entire history. There have literally been more people to run a marathon in Antarctica than have been female US Senators.
The underrepresentation of women in politics has certainly not gone unnoticed by the people who are involved in organizations like Running Start. In a sense, these individuals are doing exactly what my dad did so many years ago with the simple gesture of a t-shirt; planting the seed of “you can do it” while being there along the way to offer advice and encouragement. Although this time, instead of base-running tips, batting practice, and a sassy shirt, I’m offered knowledge on the fundamentals of campaigning, given the chance to live with six brilliant young women who are willing and able to dive into the male-dominated world of political office, and enabled to work in the office of an incredible young Congresswoman who has both gracefully and boldly gained the respect and admiration of her male and female colleagues alike.
At first, I struggled with the idea that women somehow need encouragement in order to be motivated to become involved in realms in which they are underrepresented. Why was I the only one on the baseball team who needed someone to tell me it was not just acceptable, but essential, that I was there? And why is it important for there to be an organization whose sole aim is to tell young women the same about politics?
And the answer, of course, is clear. It’s because if my parents hadn’t signed me up for baseball, the option wouldn’t have even occurred to me—there weren’t any women in the games I watched on TV and I didn’t know a single girl who played. Now, certainly there are amazing and powerful female politicians challenging the statistics with their involvement in elected office who serve as role models for aspiring young women everywhere. However, the numbers are still depressingly low and the truth is, when the term “politician” is uttered, even I sometimes catch myself assuming the subject is a man. When young girls look to the political sphere and see an equal number of men and women serving, organizations such as Running Start will no longer be necessary.
But until then, bring on the girl power.
-Samantha W., Star Fellow Fall 2010