By LaKeshia N. Myers
“This is a man’s world”—James Brown’s lyrics seemed to have resonated with former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch this week. In an interview with Wisconsin Eye, Kleefisch touted her desire to help more women to run for office after ‘shocking’ treatment of her family. A Journal-Sentinel article about the WisEye interview points to former President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Tim Michels after he learned that Kleefisch’s daughter was accompanied to a school dance by the son of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn. Hagedorn, a conservative justice, delivered the swing vote in 4-3 decisions blocking Trump’s legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election result in Wisconsin (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 2023).
According to the Journal-Sentinel, “In a private meeting with Michels in April 2022, Trump complained about a 2019 tweet by Kleefisch in which she posted a picture of her daughter with the son of Hagedorn. The tweet showed the two teenagers dressed up in formal wear and headed to a high school homecoming event. A political ally then retweeted the post, suggesting it was the beginning of a ‘Hagedorn-Kleefisch political dynasty in Wisconsin.’” (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 2023). This was the proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ for the former Lieutenant Governor. “There was no way I probably could have prevented what happened to my kids because they were not decisions made by me. Other people made those decisions to go after my kids and, unfortunately, they are vortex public figures though one was underage,” Kleefisch said.
Rebecca Kleefisch is justified in her disdain for the way she and her children were treated. Furthermore, I believe she was not the Republican nominee for governor because she was a woman. Point blank, Rebecca Kleefisch was outflanked by the patriarchal masters of her own political party. The proof lies in the makeup of the Republican lawmakers across the country. In Wisconsin, of sixty-four Republicans in the state assembly there are only thirteen women. Conversely, there are thirty-five Democrats, nineteen of whom are women. In our state’s history we have never had a female executive, Kleefisch was herself the first Republican woman elected to the office of Lieutenant Governor, and only the second woman to ever be elected to the office.
Children (and husbands) are often seen as the ancillary attachments of women politicians. They are used as adornments in photographs to make women appear more domestic or to enhance femininity. Female politicians who are mothers are often judged (both positively or negatively) for the actions of their children while they are in office. Men are usually never linked to their children (or spouses) in news stories, and if they are the relationship is mentioned as an afterthought.
Rebecca Kleefisch learned a lesson about the patriarchy that she probably had ignored for most her life—some men, especially ones in power, don’t relinquish that power to women very easily. While I’m sure she didn’t anticipate a loss in the Republican primary, she should have considered her core base of support. Republican men. These are the same men who display patriarchal attitudes at church, in business, and in the workplace. The location may change, but the attitude and expectations of that base remain the same.
While Democrats have more female representation, we still deal with the same issues. Maybe not in government, but most definitely in church, business, and the workplace. I know many Democratic women that worship in churches every Sunday where women aren’t allowed to preach or cannot serve in certain areas of leadership.
I empathize with Rebecca Kleefisch and I commend her commitment to encourage women to run for office. After all James Brown was right, [this world] “wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.”