By Josh Cook
It’s no secret, to anyone who pays attention, that politics is a male-dominated field. Up until very recently, our country’s collection of elected officials has looked more like a fraternity than a reflective representation of American society. Despite the efforts of incredible individual women throughout history, as well as groups like the Suffragettes, getting elected to a public office as a woman is an extreme undertaking. Not only is there the standard challenge of having their entire life and persona examined under a public microscope, which every aspiring legislator or president must endure, there is also an aggressive double-standard, surrounding strength and assertiveness, making it much harder for women to prove themselves worthy of a leadership role. Thankfully, one of our two major parties saw a record number of women elected on their ticket in the tail-end of 2018. Things are looking up for increasing diversity among our elected officials – as long as the parties make a commitment to it. Hopefully that trend continues and we get closer to a 50:50 ratio of women and men in local governments, Congress and, dare I say, presidents.
There’s amoral, unethical men all over the government, why not have the same distribution of women and see what happens? I’m paraphrasing Dr. Lara M. Brown, the Director of the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University, but she posed that question during her lecture at The Washington Center on the morning of January 8th. In doing so, she not only provided an excellent recap of some of the points made during her time, but got a huge laugh from the room. And while the question was hilarious and well received as a punchline, it really drove home a larger point on the deeply embedded misogyny which has run rampant at all levels of American government since it was established.
Before the most recent election cycle, the chances that one of your representatives was a woman was low (in the last congressional session roughly 20% of House members were women and 23% of the Senate, which put the U.S. 103rd in global rankings for women’s representation in national legislatures). While it was a record number of women elected to the House in 2018, 102, the percentage hasn’t grown much and women will still only make up 23.4% of the House and 25% of the Senate. So, while this may mark the beginning of a trend, a continued, committed effort to recruit women to run for office will be necessary for that percentage to keep growing.
A simple Google search of the question ‘how to get more women in politics’ yields vast, interesting results, showing that it’s clearly a point of interest for a number of research and media organizations, but also for the public. There are a lot of different theories out there regarding how to bring women into the political sphere, but there are also some specific efforts being made. A 2016 article from The Cut references some organizations like Running Start and the Women Under 40 PAC, both making efforts to recruit women to run for office and help them be successful doing so.
The Washington Post has given the growth of female representation a respectable amount of coverage, including some critiques of the GOP for a lack of efforts on their end to promote women leaders. But the issue isn’t specific to America, despite our nation’s remarkably low ranking. The UK has also struggled to bring women into politics, though their global ranking as of 2014 was 65th; nearly twice as high as the U.S.
Despite all of this, there is hope in current female leadership to inspire more women to run for office. With Nancy Pelosi being just the seventh person ever to repeat as Speaker of the House non-consecutively, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez growing an incredible following in her short run for office, and Kamala Harris prepping for a presidential campaign, the increased exposure of women in politics is a great step.
On a personal note, I think getting more women, and people of color, into Congress and to run for President is crucial for the long-term health and stability of our democracy. Dr. Brown, in her speech at The Washington Center, said, “I’ll get picky when there’s parity.” She was referring to the sheer lack of women on ballots during elections, and connecting it with her joke from before. I couldn’t agree more. In the 2018 election cycle, I voted for women when in doubt. Men, particularly white men, have had their uninterrupted shot to run the government for multiple centuries. I don’t think there’s a single movement that would yield more positive results in our federal government than to give women a chance to impact policies, and more importantly, the national agenda. I believe that female representation will increase, slowly but steadily, over the next handful of election cycles. I only hope that, by the time my young generation is in power, there will be a much more even spread of women across our legislatures.
One final note. Dr. Brown also noted the idea that female candidates will fall under less intense scrutiny if there’s “more than one woman on the stage.” This, for me, is the most important piece. We must to get to a point where women are running against other women. Running a woman against a man will always be a tough battle to overcome, given our political culture. To reduce the double standard on women we need to be able to objectively compare candidates without gender being a focal point in discussion about the candidates.