DES MOINES, Iowa — After a divisive year in American politics, women found their power in numbers. Millions of women marched in cities from Washington D.C. to Des Moines as a part of the infamous Women’s March.
Political experts say the surge of energy comes primarily from Democratic women looking to create change, running for political office at a historic pace after having their chance for a first female president squashed.
It’s what inspired Deidre DeJear to run for Iowa’s secretary of state.
“Finally I got to the point where I was like, stop convincing yourself why you shouldn’t and just do it,” she says, but she also had her doubts. DeJear is African American, married, and already has a full-time job–and she’s also never run for political office before. DeJear is no stranger to politics, but serving in this capacity would be a first.
“Many of these women that are stepping up are using the gifts they have to impact the greater good. We’re all like pieces of this big puzzle and women are beginning to figure out where they fit and how they fit,” she says.
Kelly Whiting, a mother of two, found her place on the now female majority Ankeny City Council last November, not because of the outcome of the election but because she always wanted to serve.
Whiting says, “We are half of the population. It’s good to have a representative government.”
City councils in Waukee and Coralville are also female-dominated for the first time ever, but for Whiting, being a part of history wasn’t why she decided to run.
“I think voters look for the best candidate, and if you’re working on the issues close to their hearts I don’t think it matters if you are male or female.”
Whiting and DeJear join the list of a record number of Iowa women who are hoping to break their own glass ceiling. Republicans like Governor Kim Reynolds, Senator Joni Ernst, and Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer have already paved the way. Iowa’s firsts are part of a national trend.
“Every indication is that we have double the number of women running for the U.S. Congress this year than ever before,” says Dianne Bystrom.
Bystrom is the director of Iowa State University’s Carrie Chapman Cat Center. She says the only time there’s ever been more women running for Congress was almost three decades ago.
“This year may be replicating what happened in the 1992 election,” she says.
In 1991, Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s dismissal of the accusations ignited female political involvement, similar to today’s #MeToo movement, the social media campaign addressing the issue of sexual harassment. Political experts say this, along with women speaking up and speaking out, is driving political momentum and confidence.
The confidence is driving women to run for office, but many don’t know where to start. The non-profit organization 50-50 in 2020 created a blueprint to help female candidates campaign. Enrollment at the boot-camp has doubled since the last election. The organization’s goal is to fill 50% of the seats in the Iowa legislature with women within the next two years. Right now, that number is only at 23%. Organizers believe the goal will likely not be met, but its importance remains.
“This is not just a phase, this is maybe a boost to make it more important to say we need more women in the legislature,” says Maggie Tinsman, co-founder of 50-50 in 2020.
Political analysts suggest more women in politics will bring more collaboration and bipartisanship across the aisle. It’s an issue women hope won’t need to always be the center of discussion but something that is expected in the future.
Whiting says, “It’s more of just an aspiration of seeing other women do great things and for our daughters to know it’s possible and for them to have role models they can see, too.”