Alison Bowen

Rutgers Center Helps Women Enter Politics

Hillary Clinton may be out of the running for president, but plenty of women remain in this year's political field.

That's the message from Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women in Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, which follows and trains women running for office. Rutgers is located in New Brunswick, N.J., but the center tracks races nationwide.

This year, 149 women are candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives and eight women are running for the Senate. In 2006, 136 women ran for the House and 12 ran for the Senate. Five women also are running for governor in five states.

"There's so much attention at that very top of the ticket, but it is an important moment to also remember that there are races that are 'down-ticket,'" said Walsh, who joined the research group in 1981. "We're still looking to see what happens nationally with those races."

Since the center began in 1971 with a mission to "promote greater understanding and knowledge about women's changing relationship to politics and government," it has been churning out information on women in government, from state legislatures to governors' mansions to Congress. Pollsters and reporters often call the center for data about high-profile races and women's voting patterns.

In the past four years the center's home state of New Jersey has been making the kind of progress the center likes to see. In 2004 the state ranked 43rd in the proportion of women in its legislature. Now, the state's 34 female legislators are 28 percent of all lawmakers, propelling it to a shared 15th place with Connecticut.

Getting Women Ready to Run

Walsh thinks the group's training program for female candidates -- "Ready to Run," launched in 1998 -- can take some credit. She estimates one-quarter of the women in New Jersey's legislature went through the one-day training blitzes, which cover political party structures, fundraising and media relations.

Walsh and project manager Jean Sinzdak say women don't consider running for office as easily as men. Often, they say, they need to be encouraged.

"The message of the whole day is, 'We're asking you to run,'" Sinzdak said.

Ready to Run participants attend the same opening sessions but then break into two afternoon tracks: one for women who have made up their minds to run and are there for tactical advice and one for women looking for more information about entering the ring.

On the eve of the workshops the center offers three Friday night programs with special attractions for Latinas, African Americans and Asian Americans.

In March, a session for New Jersey women provided a crash course in the state's political parties, including guidance on joining a party and gaining membership support.

Ready to Run alumna Meryl Frank, a mother of four, is now in her ninth year as mayor of New Jersey's Borough of Highland Park. Before her first bid she took a training course in 1998.

Nurturing Candidates

Even more helpful than the nuts-and-bolts training of running a campaign, Frank said, is having other women there saying, "Yes, you should do this.'"

To assist her campaign, Frank tapped contacts in school parent groups and pulled together strategy sessions at 10 p.m. when kids were in bed. She also said she kept a "tantrum voice" of calm when her opponent became combative in debates.

Both Walsh and Sinzdak say the most effective politicians are those frustrated with something in their own town, like a broken stoplight or an arbitrary school policy.

Women, they say, often volunteer in soup kitchens or domestic violence shelters but don't realize they can take charge on a larger scale. "We try to make those connections for them," Walsh said.

The center, housed in a white mansion flanked by an expansive lawn dotted with students, sits on the campus as part of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.

Women's History on the Wall

The walls of the mansion's rooms are covered with portraits of women making history.

Walsh's office is decorated with a "Madame President" hat, a photo of Walsh with Hillary Clinton and the 2003 children's book "A is for Abigail: an Almanac of Amazing American Women" by Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney.

The center devotes itself to helping women start political bids. Once they do, other groups, such as the nonpartisan Women's Campaign Forum and EMILY's List, a pro-choice political action committee that helps Democrats, often take over by providing financial support and publicity. Another major political machine for women is the White House Project, a New York-based group that galvanizes young women and trains adults to enter politics.

This November, Darcy Burner, a Democrat in Washington state, is making her second run for U.S. Congress, where she is in a high-profile race against incumbent Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, who narrowly defeated her in 2006.

Burner, who has not gone through a Ready to Run workshop, is endorsed by EMILY's List and the Women's Campaign Forum, both based in Washington, D.C. The forum sponsored a conference call with reporters and followed up with an e-mail requesting donations to help Burner buy yard signs, mail campaign literature and hire staff.

In a conference call with reporters earlier this summer about her campaign, she was asked if she had any advice for other women mulling a political move.

"My first piece of advice is just jump in and do it," Burner said.

Copyright 2008 Women's eNews. All Rights Reserved.

More Parents Using Sperm Sorting Technique to Have Daughters

Leslie Jordan just wanted to dress up a dainty, delicate baby girl. But after giving birth to four sons, she was well established as a "boy mom" and playing kickball outside.

When Jordan married her husband about 10 years ago, they had a playful agreement to have four children; she wanted all four to be daughters. When she became pregnant, the ultrasound revealed their first son, Christian.

"I was thrilled when I saw him on the monitor," she said. "I didn't care what kind of package he came with. I was having a baby, and that's all I cared about."

Three similar ultrasounds later, and three failed attempts at folk remedies to conceive a girl including wearing tight underwear, taking Sudafed and tracking ovulation, the Jordans had their four children. She and her husband decided to try one more time, but didn't leave it to nature.

Jordan used a pre-conception sperm-sorting method and in vitro fertilization, which offered her an 85 percent chance of conceiving a girl. The procedure cost about $5,000, after insurance, which covered the in vitro and she became pregnant on the first try with Natalie, now a year old.

The Microsort method of sperm sorting, which uses a dye to separate male and female sperm before fertilization, and a second high-tech method called PGD -- or preimplantation genetic diagnosis -- which identifies the sex of embryos in the test tube before they are implanted in the womb, are drawing parents in to fertility clinics, where costs can rise up to $18,000 per cycle.

"They're having to save up for a BMW, or a baby," said Dr. Jeffrey Steinberg, director of Fertility Institutes in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The clinic sees about 4,000 patients a year.

The success ratio for selecting girls is higher: In a Microsort clinical trial, 726 babies were born to parents who selected girls with a 92 percent success rate, compared to 81 percent success among 211 babies born to those who wanted boys.

From Prevention to Selection

The technology was initially developed to help prevent genetic disorders, which are often carried by one of the sex chromosomes, but a 2006 report from the Washington-based Genetics and Public Policy Center found that 42 percent of fertility clinics that offer the PGD embryo selection method used it for non-medical sex selection.

Jordan is one of thousands of parents to choose the gender of a child in the name of "family balancing." It's often used by women who want a daughter to add to a brood of sons, says Robin Weiss, author of "Guarantee the Sex of Your Baby," a 2007 book published by Ulysses Press that explains both low- and high-tech methods available to parents.

Up to 80 percent of U.S. families choose to try for girls, using methods ranging from sperm separation to money-back-guarantee kits complete with digital thermometers and ovulation predictors to use at home, according to the Web site In-gender.com, which informs parents interested in gender selection. Fertility professionals also say they have noticed a trend to select for females.

On Web sites such as In-gender.com and iVillage.com -- where a message board thread cheerfully begins, "A healthy baby is all that really matters, of course. But we know you're dying to find out if you can help the sperm carrying a particular chromosome be the one that wins the race" -- women fill forums with topics like "gender disappointment," which is what happens when methods don't produce the expected child. The anonymity the Internet provides -- with sex selection jargon like a "dh, "ds" or "dd" (dear husband, dear son or dear daughter) dotting the posts -- serves as a useful tool for a topic Weiss said is normally taboo.

"Women are not talking about it," she said, noting that the standard line of parents is that they just want a healthy baby. "Nobody says, 'We just plunked down $18,000, and it's a girl.'"

Test-Tube Baby Trial

Jordan used sperm-sorting to conceive Natalie as a participant in a clinical trial conducted by the Fairfax, Va.-based Genetics and IVF Institute. More than 900 babies had been born in the trial as of January 2007. It is so popular the Fairfax center suggests patients call for an appointment several months before a planned conception.

Both sperm-sorting and the embryo selection method were developed as a way to avoid passing along genetic disorders, which are carried by one of the sex chromosomes, but parents began calling fertility institutes, however, to find out if they could use it solely for choosing gender.

In his practice, Steinberg said he sees a nearly 50-50 split of which sex a couple desires. If a mother calls to make the appointment, he said, she almost always wants a girl, and when the father calls, it's usually for a boy. Most couples come in after having two or three children of the same sex, but the clinic will perform the procedure for a first child. (The Microsort clinical trial requires that families already have at least one child.)

Steinberg said about half his patients are from abroad, and typically those from China and India -- where the national sex ratio is skewed -- generally use the procedure to select males. Gender selection is outlawed in China, India and throughout much of Europe amid fears that sex selection will lead to sex discrimination. Largely, however, concerns over gender selection have focused on prenatal tests and ultrasounds that lead to selective abortions.

Debate Over Ethics

In the United States, non-medical gender selection is on vague ground ethically. The Chicago-based American Medical Association has neither endorsed nor condoned the practice. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, in Birmingham, Ala., says it is ethical when the couple is informed about the procedure and don't have "unrealistic expectations about the behavior of children of the preferred gender."

Michael Wilkes, a professor of medicine at the University of California, issued a warning in a July 21 Sacramento Bee article about technology moving faster than the discussion surrounding it. "We've not yet had the debate and discussion to develop a rational approach to use of the technology," he wrote, adding that the doctor's job is not just to fill the requests of patients but to fulfill an integrity based on "reasoned, rational logic."

Steinberg said the real ethical conundrums may come later, when doctors can dissect an entire embryo's DNA, determining what the child will look and act like.

"We've been accused of being on the slippery slope for 20 years," he said. "The future's maybe a bit scarier than things are right now."

For Jordan, and the scores of other women posting due dates on message boards and discussing the best way to convince their "dh" to invest in sperm-sorting or embryo selection, her daughter is not an ethical quandary but the scientific fulfillment of a dream.

Natalie is not the dainty, delicate thing she'd envisioned, she said of her fifth child, but is instead an adorable squealer she discovers sitting in the toilet or tearing through cupboards.

"There's just this hole in my soul that I had to have filled," she said. "And it's filled."

Long Tours Extend Heartaches for Military Moms

U.S. Army Capt. Wendy Bernard, in the middle of a one-year deployment in Iraq, came home for two weeks' leave in the summer of 2004 to find that her year-old daughter, Clark, wouldn't speak to her after six months of separation.

"By the time she warmed up to me, it was time to go again," Bernard said. She returned to Iraq, staying until January 2005 while her husband, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Matthew Atkinson, took care of Clark and their 13-year-old son Blake at home in New York.

Extended deployments and abbreviated family leaves are among the difficulties probed by a May 11 congressional report by the Joint Economic Committee on the difficulties of deployed mothers, who typically are young parents with lower incomes.

"I think that all mothers face challenges, but military moms have the added burden of longer deployments and longer separations from their children," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who released the report with Sen. Charles Schumer.

Women represent 1 in 7 military personnel in Iraq, and 38 percent of active-duty women are mothers.

Mothers in active duty have been at the center of a controversial debate since women joined the armed forces in support positions in 1901, stirring ideological battles over how the mother-child bond affects women's right to equal work, pay and rank.

But the study, "Helping Military Moms Balance Family and Longer Deployments," accepts that women with children are in the armed forces and focuses on practical and procedural matters: the availability of high-quality child care, the length of leaves of absence and access to mental health services.

Nearly half of active-duty women are in the lower pay grades--earning between $14,436 and $24,744--and more than half of soldiers with children became parents between 20 and 25 years old.

Scramble for Child Care

For many, word of a deployment can mean a scramble for child care because, while military bases have substantial day care systems, not all children remain on the base after a deployment.

At least 230,000 children have a parent stationed in Iraq, Afghanistan or the Horn of Africa, according to the report. Among these, the military estimates it lacks 35,000 spots in its day care program for children whose parents are deployed abroad.

Army equipment parts clerk and single mom U.S. Army Sgt. Karyn Obey decided to move 2-year-old Christopher to live with her parents in New York when she deployed to Afghanistan.

Before she left, she and Christopher's father, who had just been posted to a Washington state military base, cobbled the money together for his $685-per-month New York day care bill. Each parent contributed $500 a month for Christopher's food, clothes, and piano and karate lessons.

Obey flew to Afghanistan on her son's third birthday for a year-long deployment.

"I'd never been separated from him before," Obey said. "To be at the flight line, looking at this plane, and to know that today's my son's special day and I'm about to go on this plane instead of being with him and blowing out his candles; that tore me up for a long time."

The report recommends expanding child care services to meet upcoming deployment needs, extending family leave periods after child birth and adoption and setting aside resources for mental health services to assist mothers before and after deployments.

Maloney expects them to be implemented within the decade.

Risk of Losing Female Soldiers

The U.S. Government Accountability Office, which evaluates government programs and expenditures, will release another report on June 21 about work-and-family balance. If resources for military mothers do not improve, Maloney says, the military will lose female soldiers.

Obey, who recently re-enlisted for six more years, said the Army was a way to pay off student loans, fix her credit and earn a master's degree in public administration.

For Bernard, who left her native Jamaica at age 16 to pursue an education in the United States, joining the military was a way to give back for the opportunities she received.

"A lot of people say to me, 'How could you do it? How could you?'" Bernard said. "And for me, I say, 'How could you not?'"

Deployment can be particularly difficult for mothers: 64 percent of women with children experience emotional health problems after deployment, compared to 39 percent of women without children, according to the congressional report.

"Sometimes the only thing you can do is go to bed sobbing yourselves to sleep," said Bernard, who missed her daughter's first steps and words. "Sometimes you have to be completely strong and not think about your own issues."

The Internet allowed Bernard to monitor her teen son's homework and receive photos of her daughter in amusing outfits chosen by her husband. Obey depended on weekly phone calls and packages to speak with her son Christopher, who was too young to understand why she left home.

"That crushed me," Obey said. "That broke me. I had no choice but to say, 'It's not that you're a bad boy; it's just that mommy's working.'"

The Department of Defense implemented new Web restrictions May 14 that prohibit soldiers' access to MySpace and YouTube, sites commonly used to share messages, photos and video with family and friends. The restrictions are intended to free up the military's network space and increase connection speed.

Disrupting Parental Relationship

After returning from deployment, women report a decline in emotional health and well-being that affects relationships with their children, according to the report.

"I was kind of freaked out by him," says Obey about returning to Christopher, who turned 4 in her absence. "He had grown so much and become so independent; it kind of made me feel like I had been replaced."

When Obey returned in March 2007, she stayed with her parents and Christopher before returning with her son to North Carolina, where she lives now and was stationed before deploying.

One day, just after she returned, her parents left her alone with her son for four hours. When they came home, she cried. She said she felt he had become a different child.

Her nerves were fragile, Obey said. She felt she was too quick to snap at Christopher, and she couldn't get used to not carrying the 4-pound gun she was required to have with her at all times in Afghanistan. She woke from nightmares during the night, disoriented, and she avoided New York City because the crowds reminded her of a May 2006 riot in Kabul where her vehicle, the first in a convoy, was trapped in the middle of 5,000 rioters throwing rocks.

She and Christopher leave in July for Germany, where she will be posted on a base. She hopes her re-enlistment will not include a 15-month tour in Iraq so she and her son can keep on getting back to normal.

"I try to be as patient with him as possible," she said. "I hope he's patient with me too."

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