COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Mary Anne Christie climbed a steep hill to become the first woman of the Madeira City Council in 1975.
Just a year before her election to represent the Cincinnati suburb, Congress prohibited banks from refusing credit cards to women, and discriminating against pregnant women remained legal throughout the U.S., Christie said.
It wasn’t until the city’s mayor called her up, despite the staunch opposition from her husband, and pleaded that Christie, then 40, throw her hat into the ring, citing the council’s need for a woman to serve.
“I was the token female,” she said. “But somehow or other, I ended up leading everything.”
Christie, 87, gradually ascended the political ladder to become the mayor of Madeira, the first woman president of the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, an administrative law judge, and more recently, vice-chairperson of the Ohio Republican Party.
While more doors have opened for female political candidates since Christie’s election, women continue to be outnumbered by men in positions of power.
Women make up 27% of city governments in Ohio where the population is greater than 10,000, placing the Buckeye State at the No. 40 position relative to other U.S. states when it comes to female representation in municipalities in 2022, according to a report from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP).
Although Ohio ranks a bit higher at the No. 24 spot for female representation in state government in 2022, women only account for about 31% of elected officials in state office, the report found.
“If 52% of the voting population — based on census data — is women, then why not have at least 50% of our elected officials be women?” said Emily Schriver, CEO of The Matriots, a Columbus-based nonpartisan political action committee that supports women running for office.
When women aren’t at the table, Schriver said lawmakers and elected officials could overlook policy implications with adverse consequences for women. And it’s not just reproductive health or childcare issues that women should be a part of, she said.
She pointed to an example where a woman takes an interest in infrastructure issues, like the lack of sidewalks in a neighborhood that cause her to feel unsafe while walking her kids to the school bus. Or a woman-owned small business struggling to compete with a tech startup for commercial space.
“It runs the gamut,” Schriver said. “I just need to reframe my mind — every issue is a women’s issue.”
Assistant Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) of the Ohio Senate said while the CAWP numbers are probably better than they were 25 or 30 years ago, politics continues to be a challenging place for women.
“It’s hard to raise money, and it’s still tough to break into the old boys’ club in a lot of ways,” said Antonio, who is the first woman elected to serve Ohio’s 23rd Senate district and the first LGBTQ member of both the House and Senate.
With limited networks, the ever-present gender wage gap, and a tendency to bear the burden of childcare and household responsibilities, women are hit hard by the financial expectations and time commitments required to run a campaign, Schriver said.
On a national level, female candidates running for the U.S. House raised about a 70% greater share of funds than their male counterparts from campaign donors who contributed $200 or less, a Brennan Center for Justice study found.
As large donors nearly quintupled their share of donations to federal candidates in 2020, the Brennan Center for Justice said the power of small donors “has plummeted.”
“Women tend to be less likely to self-fund their own campaign than men,” Schriver said. “Candidates, we know, have to go out in the community to find donors. Men might be able to reach into their pocketbooks for that money.”
And women of color – who represent 25% of the country’s population but only 4% of U.S. House candidates – are most acutely impacted by financial barriers, raising less on average than all other candidates and relying the most on small donations over the past four general elections, the study found.
Beyond the bank statements, Schriver said it’s also imperative to look at the ways in which redistricting efforts could impact women candidates in Ohio.
Of the current makeup of the Ohio Redistricting Commission — the seven-member group in a months-long battle with the Ohio Supreme Court over its state legislative map drawings — all but one are men.
With men dominating political positions in the Statehouse and the historical advantage of incumbents in elections, Ohio Democratic Party Chair Elizabeth Walters assigned blame to her Republican counterparts for rigging redistricting efforts to block women from running for office.
“That’s why Ohio Democrats are laser-focused on fighting for fair maps that accurately represent our state and that make our state government more reflective of the people we serve,” Walters said.
Betty Montgomery, who became the first female Ohio Attorney General in 1995, said although it takes years to chip away at cultural barriers blocking women from running for office — which begin as early as adolescence in the way girls are often taught to behave — she’s optimistic for the future of female leadership.
Groups like The Matriots, which provides material and financial support to female candidates it endorses, and the Jo Ann Davidson Ohio Leadership Institute, a training program for Republican female candidates, are making strides to inspire women and equip them with the tools to run a successful campaign, she said.
“You’ve got to step out of the box you’ve put yourself in, and you’ve got to step out of the box that other puts you in,” Montgomery said. “You’ve got to be willing to roll the dice on yourself.”