Women civilized the West. Women ran the schools, made sure their families went to church on Sundays, and it was women who pushed for peace keepers like Wyatt Earp to clean up towns infiltrated by criminal debauchery. These events occurred during the time when women were considered property of men, when men were given dowries for being so gracious as to take women as their wives. Women tolerate absurdity for only so long before they band together to create change and move their states and country forward; examples include the suffrage movement, the Underground Railroad, the Red Cross. In Montana, it was Jeanette Rankin who bucked the trend in lawmaking and blazed the trail for women at a time when women were still barred from voting in federal elections. As the great Loretta Lynn tells us, “We have come a long way, baby.”
Yet despite our advancements to secure our equivalency to men in society, some men (and oddly, a few women) believe that before embarking on a political run, women must seek permission from their respective party elders. I have a friend who, after years of cajoling, has finally thrown her hat in the ring to run for a Montana House seat. This woman is exceedingly talented and has devoted countless hours supporting her political party and its platform. And while her filing for office came with many cheers, she received at least one phone call from a “party elder” telling her that she should have “talked to [him] first” before she filed for office as he had a male candidate in mind for the position. Of course, the absurdity of the statement was apparent as soon as it was uttered. Pointedly, women don’t need permission from anyone to file for political office. There is no ring we must kiss and there is no genuflect before party elders we must give.
This is an issue beleaguering all political parties. The National Republican Party is addressing the issue head on, likely in response to the Trump administration’s acknowledgment of women as gifted leaders. More women serve in the Trump Administration than any other president in history. Candidly, the way to engage women is to drop the patriarchal approach to party leadership, and to encourage all qualified women to serve in leadership positions. If party leadership is unwilling to discourage terrible candidates from running for office, it cannot be so hypocritical as to attempt to dissuade strong, qualified women from entering open primaries. Montana was the first state in the nation to welcome women into the political system and it should remain at the forefront of female candidacy recruitment. If the Trump administration has the wisdom to recognize gender is not a qualification for public office, all political parties should follow suit.
Tammi Fisher is an attorney and former mayor of Kalispell.