Although I think that political illiteracy is a bigger problem than most would like to admit, politics remain as a much talked about subject in the United States. As election time rolls around, suddenly everyone is brushed up upon current events; Facebook feeds are flowing with political opinions and slogans. Usually this interest is limited to just presidential candidates, but I think that goes back to the political illiteracy problem.
In spite of all the talk about politics, I see a lack of one thing in particular- women being represented in politics. Let me explain. Women make up about 50.8 percent of the population.
Even though women are making up a little over half of the population, they are receiving less representation than their male counterparts. This is not to say that all men in politics do a poor job of representing women, however it is alarming that there is such a lack of women representing other women. Don’t get me wrong. I am not discounting, in any way, the amazing progress that has been made over the past 100 years for women in America. The Washington Post has an encouraging timeline of women in politics over the years:
For a long time, women couldn’t even run for politics. The women that served were oftentimes the widows of men who were in office first. We really have come a long way. For instance, we now have 101 women in Congress! Woo-hoo!! This is amazing! But, when you look at the numbers and notice that there are 535 congress people total, 101 doesn’t really sound that great. Not only that, it also doesn’t make things equal whatsoever. This means that a little less than 19 percent of congress are sharing perspectives that match half of the population in the US. Worldwide, the United States ranks 78th in female political representation. This place is just behind Rwanda, Costa Rica, Cambodia, and many other developing countries across the world. (Gill, 2012)
Not only is the US in 78th place, It’s now estimated that, at the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in leadership roles in our country.
This is embarrassing.
Seeing the lack of women in politics is fairly easy. However, is this just because we are not voting women into politics? Maybe. Let’s look at some statistics:
-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 are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office – from anyone
It is important to notice the general disparity, but it is also important to notice what happens when women run for office. In the beginning of their race, many women lack the support they need to even launch a campaign. Not because their ideas are not up-to-par, or because they are overly emotional, but simply because they are women. Some female politicians, such as Secretary Jennifer Brunner, are blatantly told to “wait their turn”, and to not run at all. (Gill, 2012)
I think back to when Sarah Palin ran in the presidential election a few years ago. I know that she may have had some ideas that a lot of people disagreed with, but the way she was constantly treated was appalling. For the majority of her campaign, Palin was treated as inaudible. Sarah Palin was so frequently talked about in the media, yet it was rarely about the details of her campaign. Entertainment media targeted Sarah Palin frequently during her candidacy. In the film Miss Representation, scenes point out many subtle comments directed to Palin. She was constantly told things like “you’re so beautiful” and “you’re so hot”, which are comments that take away from the meat of her run for office, but could also be seen as statements that were aimed to be compliments. So we can try to give some grace there. However, then there’s people, like Tracy Morgan, who describe Palin as “Masturbation material”. No, seriously. That really happened:
America is great in the sense that you are allowed to share your thoughts and opinions, but it is so unfortunate that this freedom is often used at the expense of other people.
Obviously, there’s a problem here. Another instance that comes to mind was when a female reporter, a real reporter from a real station, asked Palin to clear up if she had breast implants. You know, because it’s vital to know the size and authenticity of the breasts of a person who could be leading your country for the next four years. The public news repeatedly discounted her political ideas and played her to be a sexual object for disposal.
You don’t really see men getting asked questions like this, do you?
(Miss Representation, 2012)
When I see and hear things that people say about women in politics, I think a lot of things. However, something that I really wrestle with is what this is doing to the minds of children who hear and see these things on television and social media. Check out this video where Jimmy Kimmel interviews 4 kids about women running for president.
We have a long way to go. However, we cannot let this overwhelm us. Equality has to start somewhere, why not start with yourself? Educate yourself on female politicians, even in your states. Write to your governors and talk to them about equal representation. Talk with your kids about gender equality and women running for office. These may be small steps, but all steps lead somewhere.
Bennett, S. (2011). Women Need an Establishment of Their Own. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-bennett/women-need-an- establishme_b_565167.html
Gil, L. (2012). The Gender Crisis in Politics: U.S. Congress Fails at Equality. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lili-gil/women-in-congress_b_1374030.html
Miss Representation (Full-Length Video) [Motion picture]. (2012). United States of America: [Ro*co Films Educational].
Warner, J. (2014). Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap. Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/report/2014/03/07/85457/fact-sheet-the-womens-leadership-gap/