I’ve broken a glass ceiling or two in my career. And I’ll be the first to tell you that doing so isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s virtually impossible to reach those highest goals unscathed.

In the victory speech after my first election to the Senate, I vowed to work for an America that is better for our sons and open for our daughters.

As I began my career in public service, it was perfectly clear that I would have to work exceptionally hard – harder than many of my male colleagues, in fact – to earn my spot and to even get the chance to do something important for the people who elected me.

I didn’t shy away from that hard work, and I don’t regret a single challenge. Because once you’ve earned the trust of your constituents and the respect of your colleagues, hard work pays dividends. It’s helped me better serve the people of Texas and provide for my state’s unique needs.

In the State House, in the halls of Congress, or on the rough and tumble campaign trail, for a woman, grit and determination are essential. Hard work is a given. And we’re up to the challenge.

Many have called 2010 “The Year of the Woman.” Indeed, next week the names of more than 160 women will appear on congressional and gubernatorial ballots across the country. There are so many bright, qualified female candidates from different walks of life who aspire to serve their communities and are ready to tackle the hefty challenges our nation faces today.

I have watched many of these women’s campaigns with great interest. But what has surprised and troubled me is that, even in 2010, desperately low tactics are being employed, including baseless attacks and charges aimed to discredit them as candidates by demeaning them as women.

Gender-targeted slurs and attacks, such as those slung at Meg Whitman, Sharron Angle, Nikki Haley, and even Hillary Clinton in 2008, are indefensible. No woman who has put herself and her family on the line in pursuit of higher office should expect to endure such insults.

There is no place for disparity and disrespect in politics today. The political process should not punish women or hold them to different standards, but instead be open for them to reach their goals.

When I was growing up, it was never even considered that a girl would aspire to be elected governor or senator. I am enormously proud of the fact that girls today have that option and that there are so many tremendous women role models to inspire them. I hope that those who consider disrespect and debasement fair game on the campaign trail will be mindful of the message that sends to our nation’s daughters.

After all these years, women are not asking for special treatment – simply equal treatment. Go ahead, ask us the hard questions. Test our effectiveness. Make us earn the right to represent our communities. We are not afraid of hard work, and we relish a good challenge. But, if we’re going to benefit from 100 percent of our nation’s talent, keep it fair.

Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison represents Texas in the U.S. Senate.