There are many societal scripts for how to celebrate a milestone in a woman’s life, and every one of those has to do with a woman’s relation to another person. Is your accomplishment finding a spouse? Great! Someone will step up to throw you a raunchy bachelorette party and maybe also a tasteful bridal shower with crudités and balloons. Is the accomplishment giving birth or adopting? Congratulations! You will get not enough burping and spit cloths, but you will get too much unsolicited parenting advice at your pastel-decorated baby shower.
But what about those professional milestones that have nothing to do with expanding a family through a state-issued certificate? There really isn’t any social script to celebrate a major accomplishment like a Ph.D., making partner years before your retirement, or starting your own company.
This just wasn’t good enough for Kathleen Feldman, who is running for a city council seat in Beverly, Mass., a city about 26 miles outside of Boston. After the 2016 election Feldman decided she wanted to be the candidate, not just the campaign volunteer. Now, she is challenging the longtime Ward 5 Councilor Don Martin, who has been in office for 12 terms and hasn’t had a challenger since 2007. So how do you mark such an ambitious professional undertaking?
Using the optimism that she would win in one of her city’s only three contested November elections, Feldman had a campaign shower. “One of the friends was like, ‘What about if we say ‘Due in November’ and ‘It’s a girl?’” Feldman said. “I could register for my yard signs and my bumper stickers.”
Whenever her husband teased an announcement for their friends on social media, it was assumed it was professional, Feldman said.
“It’s so unfair that [my husband] can foreshadow big news and not have anyone think that it’s because he’s pregnant. We really celebrate the accomplishment of a woman based on really other humans at these parties because it’s always in terms of you’re marrying somebody, or you’re making somebody,” she said. But when you’re running a campaign “you’re really just making yourself, and that was exciting.”
To execute this new type of campaign event, Feldman enlisted the help of friends, like Beverly resident Melissa More. She has a house suitable for entertaining and estimated she’s thrown “a 100 showers” in her life.
The mid-September shower had all the markings of a non-political event despite the political angle. There were paper invitations with a link to the registry. The balloons were in the campaign colors — bright blue and white with a teal star. Feldman unwrapped her “registered gifts” a.k.a. campaign yard signs, pins, stickers, and t-shirts. Sugar cookies and a cake decorated for the person of honor, in this case the campaign logo. More — ever the proactive host — served an antipasto plate, lady finger sandwiches, and wine.
“We sat around like hens. It was a school night, and I had people at my house until 9:30,” More said.
And the event was topped off with pink additions, too. As Feldman’s Facebook post announcing the event’s success said: “It was everything this candidate who is ‘due in November’ could hope for! And… It’s a girl!”
The event hosted more than a dozen of More’s neighbors and Feldman’s friends to talk about issues in Beverly, like education and traffic safety. One of the galvanizing issues for Feldman was traffic safety; specifically that when she biked with her children in a bike trailer one of her children was fully in traffic because of the bike lane’s narrow width.
“I went to a Traffic and Safety Commission meeting, and I brought my measurements and my pictures. And it was a room full of all men,” she said. Feldman walked out of the meeting feeling like city officials thought she was just another “concerned mom.” Even though she was advocating for an issue important to parents and non-parents alike, Feldman felt a perspective like hers was missing.
“Until somebody had a seat at the table that had that voice, a lot of these things would not be advocated for,” she said. “I didn’t feel like anything was really going to change until they had somebody that was actually going to go to the mat and ask why and why not for us.”
Female candidates are required to think out of the box when it comes to meeting potential constituents and raising money. On a national level, Democratic women in the House primary races in 2018 raised an average of $1.4 million, which is almost $200,000 less than the average male candidate, according to The New York Times.
“Women are great at adapting,” Feldman said. “This was a really positive way of using that stereotype, for my benefit. We are all in the fight, you know, and we should really celebrate this, because moms get this done, you know?”
Women running for office are adaptable and primed for this kind of innovative thinking to reach their constituents and fundraise, according to A’shanti Gholar, national political director for Emerge America, an organization dedicated to recruiting and training Democratic women to run for office at all levels of government.
“One of the things we tell our alums from our program all the time is, ‘Be your authentic self.’ Those things that you’re different from your opponent and how you’re unique, to bring that flair to your campaign,” she said. “Because that’s what’s going to make it special.”
Feldman making the campaign her own with a new idea like a campaign shower is inspiring to many women running for local and state offices, Gholar said.
“What I love about the idea of a campaign shower is you are celebrating something great. For women, we’re used to celebrating when we graduate, but I love how we see women celebrating things now — when they get their job, when they buy their first house — to say they’re embracing their new life,” Gholar said. “That is a very innovative idea.”
The event didn’t have an explicit goal of fundraising like many campaign events with smaller attendance, but it gave Feldman an opportunity to reach out afterward. “It was good too because I had a lot of friends of friends and friends of someone. We didn’t want it to make it an outright ‘give me money’ kind of event,” More said when describing the atmosphere. “It was about meeting and talking to people.”
The shower also helped Feldman to stand out against the incumbent.
“It’s hard to run against a long-time incumbent that can give a lot of platitudes, and distinguish yourself from that person. And I think this was a way of embracing fresh new ideas in a positive way that underlines my motivation for wanting to do this,” Feldman said, noting she was taking a supposed liability — her being a woman — and turning it into a positive.
Martin has said his record speaks for itself. “I think we’ve done a tremendous job in moving the city forward. I actually think we’re the envy of a lot of surrounding communities,” he told The Salem News in mid-October. “I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve served as long as I have.”
To counteract that, Feldman is doing more than just a different kind of meet-and-greet. She said she knocked on some 2,600 households.
“None of my peers even knew who my opponent was until his signs went out because he hasn’t had to be involved in the community in a long time. If you want to stay in office, you have to be a part of that community,” she said.
A part of being in the community is meeting people where they are — like at a campaign shower.
“The things we do every day, those are things that elected officials do,” Gholar said. “Women are absolutely changing the way campaigning is done.”