Congress will include a record number of women in 2013. Here’s why there aren’t more. (Mother Jones)
From Mother Jones — 20 women hold seats in the senate. Is that really enough to cheer about? Most of us would say yes, of course. But it does raise some fair questions about why we aren’t anywhere near parity yet. We still lag far behind the nations with the most parity—like Rwanda (whose legislature is 56.3 percent women), Andorra (53.6 percent women), and Sweden (45 percent women).
The problem is not that people don’t vote for women. Earlier this year, a study by the Women & Politics Institute at American University found that women candidates do just as well as their male counterparts at the polls, and in other measurable areas like fundraising. Rather, the tongue-soundly-in-cheek-titled report “Men Rule” found that women are less inclined to run: “There is a substantial gender gap in political ambition; men tend to have it, and women don’t.”
The researchers surveyed nearly 4,000 people identified as potential candidates—community leaders, lawyers, activists, teachers—and found that while 62 percent of the male respondents said they had thought about running for office, only 46 percent of women had. Men were more likely to say that they were “qualified” or “very qualified” to run for office then women were. And even among men who said they didn’t think they were qualified to run, 55 percent said they had thought about it. Only 39 percent of women who felt they were not qualified had given thought to running.
They also found that women were less likely to get encouragement to run for office, from others in politics, colleagues, and even their spouses. It’s a challenge that Emily’s List’s Schriock is familiar with. “It’s just not a natural inclination [for women],” she told Mother Jones. “They don’t necessarily think that politics is a place for them until they’re talked to about it.” Schriock also noted that most women have to be asked to run multiple times before they’ll throw their hats in the ring.
The “Men Rule” research also raised some interesting points about other reasons women shy away from electoral politics. Many, they found, thought it was too contentious, or that they might face sexist attacks. They found that having two very high-profile women in the presidential race in 2008—Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin—may have actually discouraged women from running, as the majority of women felt that Clinton and Palin received sexist coverage in the media, that too much attention was paid to their hair, makeup, and clothes.
Sexist coverage was part of the inspiration for a campaign called “Name it, Change it,” launched by Political Parity, a coalition of groups that support women candidates. “Even mild sexism—a focus on hair and makeup—is a very lethal tool. It can make woman drop 10 points,” said Siobhan Bennett, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund and one of the founders of Political Parity, citing the “Name it, Change it” research from September 2010. The sexism can come from her opponent, or from pundits and other media commentators. “As long as she calls it out, she regains those votes.” Bennett ran for Congress in Pennsylvania in 2008, so it’s an issue she knows well. She was told to ignore it, she says, because “if you pay attention to it you make it bigger.”
New findings from Lake Research Partners, a Democratic polling organization, indicated that women candidates perform better when they call out sexism on the campaign trail—a strategy that seemed to work for Illinois congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth. When her opponent, Rep. Joe Walsh, claimed that “the only debate Ms. Duckworth is actually interested in having is which outfit she’ll be wearing for her big speech,” Duckworth had a ready retort. “Yes, I do sometimes look at the clothes that I wear,” she said at a later debate. “But for most of my adult life, I’ve worn one color. It’s called camouflage.” Walsh also drew attention for dismissing Duckworth as not being one of “our true heroes” because she talks about her military service.