The Dearth Of Women In Politics Is Not Just Due To Sexism


For some reason, despite the fact that Hillary Clinton was a Senator from New York, nearly won the Democratic Presidential primary and is now Secretary of State, she’s the posterwoman for losing due to sexism.

Apparently, her accomplishments are all for naught because — like many men before her and many men after her — she lost a race. Well, losing is part of politics. And not every woman loses because of sexism. But, it appears, many women think that’s the reason, according to an article in Women’s eNews by pollster Celinda Lake.

On the idea that the country is not ready to elect a woman, 56 percent of women call this a major factor versus 46 percent of men. On the idea that women are held back by men there is again a perception gender gap, with 48 percent of women holding this view compared with 37 percent of men. When it comes to discrimination against women you find 45 percent of women seeing it that way compared to 30 percent of men.
A Lifetime Television survey conducted after the November 2008 elections asked women about the requirements for male and female candidates. An overwhelming 65 percent said that men and women are held to different standards. When running for elective office, only 29 percent said requirements were the same.

Note, by the way, that there’s nothing in the way of statistics that show people saying they are not personally ready to elect a woman — it’s just people saying that they think other people aren’t ready to elect women, and that they think other people hold men and women to different standards. Perception is not always reality, and citing statistics of people’s perceptions of sexism in politics doesn’t help combat actual sexism in politics.

In fact, there’s evidence that most people think men and women make pretty good political leaders.

In the Pew study, a strong majority of respondents, 69 percent, rate women and men as equally good political leaders. Only 21 percent prefer men, while 6 percent favor women.
Few attribute the small number of women in elected office to ideas such as women not being as good as men at leadership (16 percent say it’s a major reason) or women not being tough enough for politics (that’s 14 percent).

But to counter Pew’s study, Lake continues to rely on Lifetime’s survey, which is hugely annoying because she doesn’t identify whether the study was a self-selected website survey or a methodologically rigorous study (and she doesn’t link to it).

In the Lifetime survey, when women were asked to select from a list of nine possible reasons why fewer women hold elected office, 20 percent said the perception of lack of experience could be blamed. An equal number said that women are not perceived as tough enough. Eleven percent believed women would prefer to devote their attention to their family and not to politics. The remaining answer choices were in the single digits.

Oh, and, by the way, it’s all the fault of younger women, who think that silly things like policies and experience are more important than blindly voting for the female candidate (paging the PUMAs who voted for Sarah Palin!):

However, as we saw in both the 2006 and 2008 elections, younger female voters tend to be less supportive of female candidates and gender is less important than agenda and qualifications to them.

Oh, brother.

I am increasingly annoyed by older women whining about how us younger types don’t just vote for women candidates because of gender and blaming sexism for there not being enough female elected officials. Not one of these critics I’ve read over the last year ever looked at how many women ran for office this year against men and lost — though I can name 8 who won out over male candidates. The simple fact is that most candidates are men, and there are several significant, institutional reasons that are much harder to talk about or deal with than blaming simply blaming sexists and/or young female voters.

1. The Power of Incumbency
Most of the time, if a candidates survive their first re-election race, they can hold onto the seat for as long as their hearts desire. They get name recognition, press coverage, it’s easier raising money for future re-election campaigns and their state will, in all likelihood, engage in incumbent-protection gerrymandering to keep them in office for their seniority (see number 2). This was one of the major reasons EMILY’s List (Early Money Is Like Yeast) was founded — to help give the kinds of female candidates liberal women want to see elected a leg up on challenging incumbents. But if Congress members and Senators hold their seats for 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years, of course the composition of those bodies is going to more closely resemble the male-dominated politics of those eras. (And, in case you think term limits will help, keep reading).

2. The Power Of Gerrymandering
With the exception of states whose redistricting is overseen by the federal government to ensure that racial minorities are not disenfranchised, most states nominally engage in partisan gerrymandering and, by and large, engage in gerrymandering designed to protect incumbents. This then increases the already strong likelihood that certain districts will stay Democratic, others Republican and all in the hands of the politicians who currently hold them. If you want new blood, start bitching at your state representatives now. Worse yet, by creating unassailable incumbents, many women (and men) who run for office in those districts function as little more than sacrificial lambs for the party with no hope of actually being elected — and the more you lose, the less likely you are to eventually win.

3. The Power of State And Local Officials
Where do many future Congress members, Senators and Governors start? In the statehouse and in local office — and even as the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Do you know how many women are elected to state and local office around you? Do you make a concerted effort to find out? Statehouses and local government often serve as farm teams for higher office, and yet many people don’t know their own elected officials at those levels, let alone bother turning out to vote for them in off years. They are also the people in charge of gerrymandering Congressional districts every 10 years and can hold plenty of sway among their constituents in terms of making endorsements. If women are all focusing on running for Congress, they’re ignoring the power that isn’t in Washington.

4. The Power of the Two-Party System
Quite often in countries that have more than two political parties, there is more gender equity among elected and party officials. Having two parties in this country means that there is a lot of demand for a smaller number of positions, both within the parties and as candidates.

5. The Power Of The Local Parties
Quite often, the decisions about which candidates the local or statewide parties will support (and whether they will get involved or stay out of a primary challenge to an incumbent) is made by a bunch of unelected local party apparatchiks in a back room somewhere. Women who aren’t part of the boys’ club can find themselves facing fierce opposition from men who think that they’ve put in the time with the party and are thus more deserving of the right to represent the party in an election, even as a sacrificial lamb.

6. The Power Of Your Own Decisions
If women don’t choose to run, it doesn’t matter if we change everything else to make it easier for them to win. Very rarely do I see an article about sexism in the political process written by a former candidate for elected office. Politics is a tough business for women and men, and I don’t begrudge anyone for not wanting to give speeches and raise money and make themselves into a public figure. That said, if women continue to choose not to run, then women aren’t going to be elected. Groups like WUFPAC (Women Under Forty Political Action Committee) can have trouble finding women candidates to even fund, for many of the reasons I listed above and others. If you want to see more women elected, what are you doing between now and your next state or local election?

Gender Gap in Politics Is Invite for More to Run [Women’s eNews]

Related: WUFPAC
Why Aren’t There More Young Women In Political Office? [Glamocracy]

Earlier: Welcome, Women Of The Class Of 2009!

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