DC at Night

DC at Night

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Uncle Sam Needs More She-Heroes

If you think there is a gender gap in political power, statistics support you. While 52% of the American population is female, there has never been a female president in the 200+ years of this country. Only 17 of the 100 U.S. Senators are female. That same 17% percentage holds in the U.S. House of Representatives. In fact, the United States ranks only 91st in the world when it comes to women in the national legislature. Gender disparities are even greater at state and local levels where men occupy 44 of the 50 governor's seats and run 92 of the country's 100 largest cities as mayor.

So why the gap?

Dr. Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University, believes that myths about the electability of female candidates such as they can't raise enough money to be successful are partly to blame.

"The myths become a self-fulfilling prophecy,"  Lawless says. "They are a real response to what you perceive as an unlevel playing field."
Then there are actual impediments as well. For example, men are recruited to run for office in far greater numbers than women. "There are growing numbers of women who have the credentials and qualifications, but they are not getting the same encouragment,"  Lawless maintains.

Lawless was one of the panelists appearing last week at the National Archives to discuss the topic Beyond the Vote: Post-Suffrage Strategies to Gain Access to Power. She was joined by Dr. Joy Kinard, central district manager of the National Capital Parks and Jennifer Krafchik, assistant director of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum for the talk, which was moderated by Page Harrington, the executive director of Sewall-Belmont.

A study co-authored by Lawless with Loyola Marymount professor Richard Fox found 7 main factors for the political gender disparity. They are:
  • Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
  • Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin's candidacies aggravated women's perception of gender bias in the electoral process.
  • Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
  • Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
  • Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
  • Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office - from anyone.
  • Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.
The panel agreed that more effort must be made to increase women's political power. "Equity and a seat at the table are 2 different things," Lawless said."We need seats at the table. We need someone other than just 55-year-old white males making decisions."

Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Interestingly, as evidenced daily in news of the 2012 election campaigns, there is a not-so-subtle shift
happening in the battle over what have been traditionally considered women's issues. It appears as if party affiliation, not gender, is determining the sides, with Democrats increasingly on the pro side and the anti's populated by Republicans. "There is an increasing party polarization. What we're seeing is an opportunity for Democrats to benefit from the gender gap and feminist issues," Lawless said.

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