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Markowitz: Women's Leadership

An obliging passer-by
Deb Markowitz with husband, Paul, at last year's march in Montpelier

Here’s a little something to think about over the weekend, as women once again march for equal rights and the nation remembers Martin Luther King.

A recent headline on Politico – a political blog - read “Pelosi 2, Ocasio-Cortez 0” referring to Ocasio-Cortez’s vote to support Nancy Pelosi for Speaker, and the Speaker’s decision to refer Ocasio-Cortez’s key initiative, “The Green New Deal,” to a committee on climate change, rather than creating a special committee of its own.

I suspect that the headline was probably written by a man — and not just because it used a sports metaphor. Having navigated the male-dominated world of politics I know how hard it is for men, and some women, to see beyond the stereotypes of women in power.

When Congress convened earlier this month a historic number of women and minorities were sworn into office. This included the 29-year-old rising star, Democrat, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Because Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for progressive change, some observers were surprised when she voted for Pelosi.

As a powerful woman leader, Pelosi has been unfairly labeled ruthless and backbiting – especially toward other women, and when she shows strong, decisive leadership, she’s described as unlikeable. Ocasio-Cortez, as a young woman of color, faces even greater hurdles, with critics calling her “uppity” and questioning her competence, dismissing her for being young and inexperienced.

Women face a double standard when they’re ambitious and unafraid to challenge the status quo, and for both Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, there is no question that men in similar roles would be judged far differently.

It is unfortunate and unnecessary for the Politico article to pit these two female leaders against each other. In fact, women leaders succeed, in part because they value collaboration and mentorship. We’ve seen this in Vermont, as a growing number of women have taken important leadership roles in the legislature.

Speaker Pelosi can help Ocasio-Cortez succeed because she knows how to get things done. Ocasio-Cortez, in turn, will help Pelosi by infusing the Democratic caucus with fresh energy and the perspective of a younger generation. These two powerful women may not always agree, but working together I expect they’ll be a force to reckon with!