20 years after the first “year of the woman” 2012 was its reprisal year, producing the largest class of new women in Congress—close to 100—the most ever. So this means the future for more women in political leadership is bright right? Not really, which also doesn’t bode well for public policies that benefit women and families in the US.
In recent study published by the American University’s Women & Institute Politics, entitled Girls Just Wanna Not Run, “young women are less likely than young men ever to have considered running for office, to express interest in a candidacy at some point in the future, or to consider elective office a desirable profession”.
This research is surprising given that Millenial woman are beneficiaries of the women’s rights movements of the past and their views reflect it, a study conducted by you.gov showed that younger women under 30 identify as feminists by at least 42%, higher than any other generation! Certainly as a generation, Millenial women like myself have a strong sense of our rights and capabilities, so shouldn’t that translate to running for public office? One would think. But according to Girls Just Wanna Run, regardless of education or profession younger women today are rather reluctant to step up for public office in comparison to men.
Regardless of all the advances women have made in US society, the gender gap is real and according to Girls Just Wanna Not Run report can be attributed greatly to socialization. Younger women are not encouraged to think of careers in politics while young. Younger women are not as surrounded by situations that would encourage political interest such as school, friends, and media habits.
And even if they could work up the interest in public office, young women don’t think they are qualified. In comparison younger men receive encouragement to have a career in politics and are through their associations encouraged towards political discussion and exposed toward political information. And if men are interested in running for public office they instantly think they are qualified as opposed to women.
While the report is disappointing, it is encouraging when you realize if there are more concerted efforts to encourage young women to engage in political discussion and think about politics as a career path, women believe they too can run for office and would be qualified.
Additionally the report lays out that engaging girls and young women in competitive natured things like organized sports tends to make a difference: “Women who played sports were approximately 25 percent more likely than those who did not, to express political ambition”.
This doesn’t mean all women must play sports to increase political ambition but that just having competitive experiences, like running for a leadership position in the school club/student government increases comfort and confidence needed in the competitive atmosphere of running for public office.
Why is it important to have more women running for office? Yes, besides the democratic notion of having our government actually look a bit more like the people it represents? Equal gender representation correlates to public policies that benefit women.
A Center for American Women in Politics study showed that of a nationwide state legislators survey they conducted, women legislators ranked health care, children, families, education, environment, and the elderly (issues women tend to have more concern over) and women’s rights legislation a top priority over other issues compared to their male legislator counterparts.
Congresswomen in previous sessions of Congress were more likely to sponsor women’s issues legislation, according to compiled paper put out by Political Parity, a nonpartisan platform that works to change the face of US politics. And a recent Center for American Progress report showed that women’s political and private sector leadership in states affects the lives of women.
For example, the economics, leadership, and health of women on average fare worst in a state like Louisiana whereas Maryland fares best. In Louisiana, 22% of women live in poverty compared to Maryland were 11% of women live in poverty. Maryland ranks first in the nation in terms of women reaching leadership positions in the public and private sector. Meanwhile, Louisiana received a D- on overall leadership factors.
In short, we must engage the girls and young women in our lives in the political process. Politics is viewed very much as man’s world, which it shouldn’t be. In an interview, Dr. Jennifer Lawless, Director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University gave regarding her research in “Girls Just Wanna Not Run” her male interviewer noted how much more men called into comment on their political shows than women.
The lesson is: if you are not at the table, then you might find yourself on the menu.
Given the rollbacks on women’s reproductive health in the last couple of years, the tone deaf comments made by male legislators on sexual assault in the 2012 election, and the battles being waged in congress on health care and the economy, more women are needed to serve in public office. Because if you change the players, then you change the game.
- Why You Should Care About Politics
- States Won’t Wait for Congress to Raise the Minimum Wage
- Elizabeth Gilbert’s Advice to Women: Get Out of Your Own Way
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