Winter comfort in books

Marion Sullivan, Books for Cooks

Stop me if you've heard this one before: South Carolina ranks last in the country when it comes to the number of women in elected office.

Unfortunately, there's no punch line there, and it's not funny.

Luckily, there are some things going in the next two weeks that might help address that deficit in the short and long term.

Do the state a favor. Invite a woman to go see the documentary "Miss Representation" at the College of Charleston and then invite that same woman to register for the Southeastern Institute for Women in politics' online training course.

Media images and influence

One of the women in the movie trailer says, "You can't be what you can't see." The film looks at how women are represented across the media. It's not a very flattering portrait.

"There are real double standards and certainly the election process makes that clear," said Alison Piepmeier, director of the college's women's and gender studies program. "It's really distressing when candidates who are women are scrutinized because of how they look."

Instead of, say, on the issues.

That includes describing what women are wearing, how they wear their hair, how much or how little makeup they have on. Apart from Donald Trump or John Edwards, try to remember the last time a male political candidate's hair was newsworthy.

The film also points out that there's a limited range of options for women to look acceptable: Piepmeier describes this as "pathologically thin, sexy but not too sexy." And these messages start early. A female high school student says in the movie trailer that she started worrying about her weight when she was in fifth grade.

Catch one of the free screenings, either at 11 a.m. Saturday in room 235 of the Robert Scott Small Building or at 3 p.m. Wednesday at the new math and science building at Calhoun and Coming streets in room 129.

Online opportunity

This week, the Southeastern Institute for Women in Politics launched its online version of the training program for women interested in running for office at scelectswomen.com. Already 25 people have signed up, which is the maximum capacity at one of the institute's training sessions. The institute conducted nine of those sessions last year, reaching 225 people.

"We feel very strongly that we need to build our farm team out," said Barbara Rackes, an institute board member who provides support at those training sessions.

The training covers how to file to run for office, how to build a fundraising plan and how to run a campaign. "We may not come out of 2012 with three female U.S. congresspeople, but if we can have 20 percent more women at the municipal and county level," Rackes said, well, it's pretty easy to see that would be considered a big improvement.

The self-confidence and the tools provided by the institute's training programs can move those women who might be on the fence onto the ballot instead.