There's an old adage that says, "Men take charge while women take care." While the statement is more stereotype than salient truth, there's a spin that's taking root across the U.S. - women taking charge to take care.
From Mayor Shirley Franklin and Senator Olympia Snowe, to the thousands of women leading at the local level, they're working across party and ideology to build consensus on some of the toughest and most urgent challenges our country now faces. From health care to economics, our nation's women are proving to be the essential ingredient to getting the job done.
Partisanship is certainly running rampant these days; one only need look at President Obama's Congressional audience during his health care address as evidence. The President may have called for an end to the partisan gridlock in order to solve the health care crisis - but it seems, so far, that only one Senator is willing to cross the aisle. Senator Snowe has been deemed the lynchpin to building cross-party consensus, saying on Face the Nation, "I'll do what's right based on what is the right policy, but I think it is important to build support. And that's what I'm looking for."
Snowe similarly embraced this approach earlier in the year, when she joined her fellow (female) Senator, Susan Collins, in being the sole Republican (along with now-Democrat Arlen Specter) to cross the aisle and support the economic stimulus bill. As Madeleine Kunin remarked at the time:
While the rest of the Congress saw the stimulus as a chance to fight a battle against the new President, these women used this opportunity to create a solution. They were less interested in winning a partisan fight and more interested in coming up with results.
This is the spirit that is so often displayed among women in positions of leadership. Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin received a great deal of criticism during her tenure for policies that were sometimes unpopular. As The New York Times described it, Franklin "Has consistently acted with a disregard for political expediency that some call reckless." Yet her refusal to trade good policy for career pragmatism has built a city that is better off than when she stepped up to lead it. "I would hope," Franklin said to The Times, "my legacy would be that a woman was up to the job."
Despite Washington's current adversarial tenor, women working together in a bipartisan manner has been institutionalized in the Congress for over 20 years by the Congressional Women's Caucus (CWC). The Congressional Women's Caucus has drawn notice for its equal dedication to tackling the issues by dismissing the politically convenient route and putting aside differences in party allegiance. Dating back to 1977, when they gathered to discuss the problem of spousal abuse, the bipartisan Caucus has learned that solving the issues of the day - from sexual trafficking, rape, and abuse to supporting women in non-traditional fields such as the military, science, and technology - require all hands on deck. And that much-needed legislation will be stalled if bridges cannot be built over division.
This commitment to advancing solutions despite the political risks is urgently needed today. Unemployment is at its highest since the Great Depression, and forty-seven million Americans are without health insurance.
In the 21st century, leadership that single-mindedly focuses on party allegiance and electioneering is proving evermore out-of-touch with the leadership Americans require not only to survive, but to thrive. Our elected officials would be wise to look towards our nation's women for a new way of taking charge. Using women like Senator Snow and Mayor Franklin as political role models, politicians would take care - not only of themselves - but for America at large.