With International Women’s Day having just past, I saw a multitude of posts and social media activity showing support and appreciation for all that women do and have done in our society. While reading all the tweets and watching a few videos, I came across a post that talked about the “Year of the Woman” which was in 1993, named after a record four women were elected to the senate. I thought it was a typo at first, just four women only two decades ago? That got me thinking and made me look into the representation of women in our current government and was quite surprised to see that women only make up 19% of congress. That begged the question, where’s the women?
Women have had a long and hard-fought past when it comes to politics and their basic rights as citizens; from the suffrage movement of the 1800s to finally getting the right to vote in 1920 with the ratification of the 19th amendment. While we have made great strides as a society when it comes to gender equality, one sore subject is the lack of female representation in Congress. Why is it not 50/50 men and women? Wouldn’t it make sense to have an accurate representation of males and females that represent various nationalities and backgrounds that make up our country? After all, according to the Census Bureau, 51% of our 321 million population are women. Unfortunately, only 104 women hold seats in Congress out of the 468 total seats, 21 in the Senate and 83 in the House of Representatives according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Additionally, of those measly 104, only 38 (36.5%) are women of color. This under representation of women makes America 97th out of 193 countries in terms of women’s parliamentary representation, trailing countries like Rwanda, Mexico, and Ecuador. Why is it that the land of the free has such a skewed and unbalanced representation of women in congress?
Why don’t women hold as many congressional seats, or elective positions in general, as men? The Brookings Institution found that women actually do just as well as men at the polls, the problem is that women just don’t run for office. That same study looked at over 4,000 individuals and found that 62% of male respondents said they had thought about running for office while just 42% of women said the same thing.
Another big uphill battle for women in politics is the underlying sexist attitudes many people have when it comes to females in government. Women have to work harder to prove they are qualified and are held to tougher standards when it comes to evaluating qualities that make them seem like a qualified candidate. There are also stereotypes and assumptions that hurt women. Many think females will be better dealing with women’s rights and education issues but think men would be better suited for harder issues like the economy and the military. When Chelsea Clinton announced she was pregnant last April, it lead many to question how being a grandmother would impact Hillary Clinton’s presidency. On top of fighting institutional and established sexism, many of the current incumbents are male, meaning for most congressional seats a woman would have to go against the established male in that position.
This isn’t a cry to just throw a bunch of unqualified women into office today to make the representation equal (although we certainly have plenty of unqualified men), but it is important to understand the unbalanced and skewed numbers in congress that favor men. Why is there an overwhelming majority of men voting on important issues like contraception, Planned Parenthood, and abortion when they never in their lives have dealt with any of that? It is unfair to women in America and our democracy as a whole that over half of our population is not properly represented in our government.
“The most important thing is encouraging talented women to run, and helping them when they do,” said Siobhan Bennett, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund and one of the founders of Political Parity. “That single thing changes everything.”