A record-smashing 118 women won elections across the US in the recent midterms, but the numbers tell only part of the story.
We’re also witnessing a transformation in the way women are using their voices, says Chris Jahnke.
“Women are telling stories that haven’t been listened to. And they are speaking up in forums where male voices have dominated – in workplaces, in houses of worship, at town halls, and on the campaign trail,” she says in her new book, The Well-Spoken Woman Speaks Out: How to Use Your Voice to Drive Change.
The book is “a celebration of women who are raising their voices,” she says, “a guide for every woman who wants to join in.”
A Washington DC-based speech coach, media trainer and author, Jahnke draws on her deep experience helping female candidates and politicians communicate more powerfully.
Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama benefitted from her coaching. So too nearly all the current and former Democratic women governors. Jahnke has coached speakers at five Democratic National Conventions.
It was sitting in front of a TV in 1991, watching Anita Hill testify to a hostile, all white, all male Senate Judiciary Committee, that Jahnke found her professional calling.
“It really made my blood boil,” she said in an interview earlier this year. “I knew there wasn’t anything I could do to help her, but I could help other women who wanted to raise their voice.”
Nearly three decades later she finally sees a significant shift underway.
In the recent elections, Jahnke says, female candidates have broken free from some of the old, limiting stereotypes. One example: “the mommy penalty.”
Voters have historically been skeptical of female candidates with young children, believing that raising children and representing constituents don’t mix.
But this time around many women running for office spoke candidly about motherhood, their family lives, and other personal experiences.
One example was Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys, who ran a campaign ad showing herself breast feeding. Roys was building on her reputation as an effective state legislator who helped ban the chemical Bisphenol A from baby bottles and sippy cups.
Jahnke calls these women who bring their whole selves to the role “360 degree candidates.”
The tangible changes she’s seen in recent months make her hopeful.
“We are living in a time that’s transformational,” Jahnke says. Yes women still face bias and barriers, but “this is an unbelievably exciting year for anyone interested in women in politics.”
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