by Rebecca Sive
According to the WCF Foundation, women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress, 22 percent of all statewide elected executive office positions, and only 24 percent of the seats in state legislatures. In addition, the organization notes that 50 percent fewer women than men even consider running for office. Of those, only a third actually run, with a mere fraction seeking higher office.
These figures are unconscionable to the likes of Rebecca Sive, author of Every Day Is Election Guide: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House. Sive, former commissioner of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, is president of the Sive Group, a public affairs strategy company. Cofounder of the Midwest Women’s Center, Sive has assisted in various capacities the political careers of Geraldine Ferraro, Barbara Mikulski, Mary Landrieu, Debbie Stabenow, and Amy Kobuchar.
In Every Day Is Election Day, Sive strives to provide insight and inspiration to women who aspire to elected office, whether on the local, state, or national level. Featuring a foreword from Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (FDR’s granddaughter), the manageable paperback serves as a primer for women considering running for office. Packed with anecdotes and real-world examples, this accessible guide draws on scores of interviews to provide frank advice and forthright insight into what it takes to run a campaign and win an election.
With examples from women across the country, from various offices, and from both sides of the political aisle, Every Day Is Election Day uses the success stories of real women to prove the author’s various points. Readers will find examples from local politicians such as Jan Schakowsky and Lisa Madigan (although here Sive makes an obvious blunder, erroneously stating that Madigan is in her fourth term as Illinois Attorney General when, in fact, she is in her third term) as well as national office-holders such as Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nancy Pelosi.
Sive offers advice from the mundane (e.g., wear high heels and suits in powerful colors like purple or black) to the timeless (e.g., learn how to negotiate, harness the power of sisterhood). Much of the book is focused on the machinations of running for office, including what to some readers might seem like the dark underbelly of political campaigns: the conniving gamesmanship that makes many ordinary citizens cringe with frustration about the state of politics. Indeed, there is little in the book about what it takes to be a good public servant (in fact, one of the earliest mentions of the public service aspect of government appears on page 116, nearly half way into the book).
As such, this is no guide for starry-eyed idealists who hope to single-handedly change the world for the better. Nor is it a book for men. This is a book for women, and, in fact, Sive at times evidences herself as something of a misandrist, viewing men merely as tools who can help women attain their political ambitions. Rather, Every Day Is Election Day may be better suited for those women who enjoy competition, who revel in the glad-handing, baby-kissing world of competitive politics. But where some readers may find her approach cynical and harsh, others might find real inspiration in Sive’s no-nonsense advice to what it takes to win office.
There is no doubt that women can change the world. Indeed, studies have shown that when women in politics work together, positive change can be effected in real, concrete ways. Every Day Is Election Day seeks to provide readers with practical, real-world advice to what it takes to actually win office. What women should do once they hold office—that is, what kind of public servants they should strive to be—is beyond the scope of this book.
Some readers may be turned off by Sive’s hard-hitting approach. But that doesn’t mean her advice isn’t useful or that it isn’t necessary. Indeed, those women who aspire to elected office but aren’t willing to play the game the way it really is will likely find themselves sitting on the sidelines wondering what happened to their political dreams. Every Day Is Election Day is practical and illuminating, even if what it illuminates isn’t all that pretty to look at.
August 2013, Chicago Review Press
Political Science/Women’s Studies
$17.95, paperback, 240 pages
—Reviewed by Kelli Christiansen