Women in politics: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend addresses gender gap

- For the first time in history, a woman is running for each of the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations. Carly Fiorina will take the stage Wednesday night for the second Republican presidential debate, and Hillary Clinton continues her run for the White House on the Democratic side.

So how far have women really come in terms of running for public office? We decided to visit with a pioneer politician in our area, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, to talk about how politics has changed for women since she was in the mix.

“The first article that was written about me, I kid you not, was about did I wear enough makeup,” said Kennedy Townsend.

When first elected lieutenant governor of Maryland in 1994, Kennedy Townsend would have hoped reporters would write about her efforts to reduce crime in her role as assistant attorney general, but then came the next article.

“The second article that was written about me was how high my heels were,” she said.

She knows first-hand that there’s a big difference when it comes to gender on the campaign trail. Just last week, Donald Trump made headlines with a comment he made in Rolling Stone magazine about Fiorina, a fellow Republican presidential candidate.

Trump said, "Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?! I mean, she's a woman, and I’m not s'posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?"

The eldest daughter of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Kennedy Townsend is the only woman to have served as lieutenant governor in Maryland and the only woman to have run for governor in the state.  Her first shot at public office was in 1986, a failed run for a seat in Congress. As you can imagine, she faced scrutiny from day one.

“Many people would say to me, ‘Kathleen, how could you run for office? You have three children. Why aren't you home taking care of your kids?’” she said. “And I thought, you know, when my father ran for president he had 10 kids, and I bet not one person said to him, ‘Why aren’t you home taking care of the children?’”

Kennedy Townsend says there’s no doubt that we’ve made progress. And while it’s okay for women to want power, we still aren’t sure how to balance it with being feminine. It leaves some people uncomfortable.

“I think what Sarah Palin did is she made it okay to be sexy,” she said.

Palin was often portrayed in a hyper-sexualized manner, while Hillary Clinton has tried in past campaigns to take the focus off of her clothing and assert her power.

“What Hillary had to do when she ran for Senate, she just decided I’m going to wear a pantsuit every day and look the same, so they cannot discuss each day what I’m wearing,” said Kennedy Townsend.

And that hasn’t always worked in her favor. The problem in this country, Kennedy Townsend says, is that we don’t have strong female archetypes. She believes this presidential campaign will help move us forward. Perhaps a young girl who sees two women running for president will believe that’s possible for her.

“My father said in 1968 that in 40 years we'll elect the first black, African-American president, and we did. And I hope that now we are ready to elect the first woman president,” she said.

Kennedy Townsend has not run for office since losing the 2002 race for governor to Republican Bob Ehrlich. She says she has no plans to run for public office again. She now works at Georgetown University as the founder of the Center for Retirement Initiatives, which studies and facilitates efforts to expand retirement options.

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