For many of today’s young girls, like 9-year-old twin sisters Shola and Sena Houston, it’s difficult to imagine that not too long ago women weren’t allowed to vote.
“It’s so unfair! Why did the men get to do it when the girls can’t? And, then, they’re like, ‘I want to vote, too!’ And then they, like, of course, get the one that they want – it can’t be fair!” Shola says.
Then, Sena follows up with: “So, I’m sure other women wanted to vote and also get their rights because they are just the same as other people.”
But, are women really the same as other people? Meaning, the same as men?
In the U.S., female participation in the election process is far behind that of their male counterparts.
“Look, I don’t know what the current ranking is, but very recently we were behind 73 other countries in the world in terms of women representation,” says Erin Loos Cutraro, the founder and CEO of She Should Run, a national nonpartisan organization that encourages women to run for office.
The list of countries that have had women as heads of state includes Britain, India, Chile, Argentina, the Philippines. But not the United States.
At a recent She Should Run event, Loos Cutraro invited many Texas women who are now politicians to plant a seed in the hearts of other women and girls.
“I grew up with a single mom who was just trying to get stuff done, and, so, this idea of, hey, make a path for yourself to run for office, was not something that was part of our everyday,” Loos Cutraro says. “And I think it is like that for a lot of young girls, lesser so now in our country but that’s what it’s gonna take to change it. It’s those role models to point to.”
Loos Cutraro’s goal is to mentor 250,000 women candidates by 2030.
One role model at the event was former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. The first time she ran for Dallas Sheriff was in 2004, and it took a spiritual reckoning to get her to do it.
“I literally took a silent retreat. Back then, we had phones as big or bigger than your microphone here, and I said to my boss, ‘I’m gonna leave my beeper, my phone, and for three days my questions were: Can I make a difference? Can I mentor? Can I make good changes?” Valdez says.
After three days, she felt strongly that the answer to all three questions was “Yes.” She ran and she won.
In 2018, she ran again. This time, she wanted to be governor of Texas. Running took another leap of faith. But, she was defeated.
“I joke and say it’s the first time a Democrat in Texas got over 3.5 million votes and lost,” Valdez says.
Despite the support of millions, Lupe Valdez was never expected to win. She, as a Democrat, was the underdog from the beginning, but that’s what also earned her the respect of many Republican women at the event. They saluted her courage to run despite the odds.
One of her challenges during the campaign was financial. One year ago, Valdez’s war chest was 100 times smaller than her opponent, incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
But there was another underdog at the She Should Run event: former Austin City Council member Ellen Troxclair. She described her 2014 run for city council as one would describe going to war.
“I ended that campaign knowing that I had done everything that I could, that I had left it all out on the field, that I had knocked on as many doors as I could,” Troxclair says.
That race turned out to be historic. Seven women – a record – including Troxclair, won seats on the Austin City Council. Austin was to be governed mostly by women – women who had diverse views about how to run the city. Troxclair, for instance, was the only Republican on the council, and her vote was often the only opposing one. But Austin is not a politically homogeneous place, and Troxclair was a reminder of that.
“And, so, I almost felt at those moments that it was my responsibility to be that minority voice even when it wasn’t easy or it wasn’t popular,” Troxclair says.
It was still a voice, and her voice had a seat at the table.
It has been 100 years since women gained the right to vote. What will the political landscape look like for women 100 years from now?
One thing is clear: today’s girls know they have a voice, and as Sena Houston says, she’s not afraid to use it.
“If there is something in life that is really, really bad, and there is a group of people who doesn’t like it, I’ll protest with them. And then, if they make something to vote, to make them go off or make the better person go on, I would definitely vote for that,” Sena says.
Elementary school student Olivia Wingfield says what matters to her is the big picture.
“I think I’ll vote for people who think the environment is good, and for people who think peace is necessary instead of war,” Wingfield says.
Maybe, in a few years, she should run.