Posted by: manafanana | August 18, 2008

Women in U.S. Politics

In the past few weeks, I’ve become more involved in my local politics. This little project has included joining my county’s Federation of Democratic Women. At this month’s meeting, the manager of our district’s democratic congressional candidate’s campaign gave a presentation on women in politics.
She cited some pretty disturbing statistics, which I thought I would share:

In the U.S., only 16% of officeholders are women. This compared to say, Sweden, where 47% of offices are held by women. In my congressional district alone 92% of mayors are men, and in the state of New Jersey we have no female Senators or House Representatives. In New Jersey, there are 4.5 million women, and we are basically absent from the political scene.

I knew the problem was bad, but not this bad. The presenter went on to discuss some of the reasons why women do not enter politics:

They don’t want to—they are more likely to get involved in public activism in other ways such as volunteering, working for a nonprofit, etc. They do not feel they are qualified to—they often feel that they are not educated or wealthy enough (which is interesting, considering that 56% of college students are women, which means we are likely to be more educated than many male office holders). We are not likely to be asked—women are 50% less likely to be approached about running for public office, though female politicians who were asked cite this as their number one reason for running.

This was a relatively short presentation, and all the numbers that were tossed around were categorized broadly as “women vs. men”—no statistics on women’s likelihood to go into politics based on race, ethnicity, national origin, etc., were mentioned, nor were stats on transgender or lesbian women, but I’m sure (or at least, would hope) that these numbers probably exist somewhere and would be curious to see them.

Now to briefly beat a dead horse. We can argue all we want about whether or not rampant sexism is what shut down the Hillary campaign (I think not, personally), but we can’t deny that sexism did play a role in the media’s portrayal of Hillary Clinton. I was never a big Hillary fan from the beginning, but I was furious along with most women over the sexism that sprung up all around me when she announced her candidacy. Hell, just last week I saw someone wearing a “Bros before Hos” t-shirt with an image of Obama’s face next to Hillary’s. Class act.

But this presentation opened my eyes to the more intrinsic psychological challenge faced by women running for office—it’s not just sexism being hurled at us that hinders us once we’ve started running, it’s the fact that we don’t run in the first place because we feel under-qualified, we’re not encouraged to, or we’d rather devote ourselves to other things–albeit very valid things. It kinda makes me want to run for city council next time around…

What do you guys think about this? Have any of you had experience running for or holding a public office? How do you think we can improve the system to make women more likely to want to run for office?

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Responses

  1. I took a class about women & politics and it just really stressed that women need stronger networks in order to get into politics. As with most things, starting at the local level is often the best route. It’s small enough to feel safe, but a good learning experience for women with more ambition.

    The professor also shared with us a lot of studies that found women are less likely to vote for other women if men are running for the same position. In addition to the expected “men are better leaders” stereotype, it comes down to the fact that women don’t think the woman will win. So they think it’s a wasted vote.

    I think having Hillary as an example of what can be done will help things tremendously, but we need to focus on young girls! They need to learn that just b/c she didn’t make it, this is an attainable goal.

    With that said, check out this mention of a new documentary about the next generation of women leaders.


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