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Election Day Edition: Women run businesses, households, organizations. Why not for office?

November 2, 2010 – 6:00 AM

By Katie Culver

It’s election day, and I am struggling with an ominous feeling that’s settling in my stomach. Not not only are we in danger of losing representatives who fight for women’s issues, but we are also obviously not even selecting our candidates from a very deep pool of qualified, concerned women. We need women to be confident, supported and motivated to RUN. So where do we start?

A recent study by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), “Poised to Run” addresses a pervasive truth: women need to be recruited and encouraged to run for political office. According to CAWP, women’s representation lags behind men on a local and national level:

·         In 2010,  fewer than one-fourth of state legislators are women. (That’s 1,811,  of the 7,382 state legislators in the U.S.). Nationally, Women hold just 22.2 % of state senate seats and 25.4% of state house seats.

Women run businesses, households, organizations; they “run” and compete in sports.

So why are women reluctant to run for public office? Women may be “poised” to run (as the report title suggests) but for some reason—and not because they are less qualified than male candidates —they are unable to “get in the game,” leaving women on the bench at a critical time.

Why are women on the political sideline? The study found that women state legislators were more likely than male counterparts to have been “encouraged” to run for office. Why do women require “hand holding” to run? One state legislator interviewed for the study put it this way: “It never occurred to me that I could run for office…I had to have other people, whom I respected, encourage me and tell me I was capable.”

·         The study further suggests that this reluctance “may stem from cultural and psychological barriers women continue to face in society and politics.” As one woman legislator interviewed stated: “In some ways men are just seen as more competent, and men see themselves as more competent. I think it is sort of an unconscious thing.”

This “unconscious thing” is simple hegemony—a.k.a. the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group. When women not only fail to question their oppression, but unconsciously contribute to its maintenance, hegemony is at play. In this climate, women think guys are just more competent — regardless of whether that is true.

·         One final explanation for the low numbers of women in public office? Women “simply lack political ambition.”

The suggestion misses the reality that many women have other priorities competing for their time and attention, including juggling career, children, household, athletic involvements, volunteering. Questioning women’s competencies and degrading females as “lacking political ambition” buttresses the very patriarchal system that kept women — completely — out of politics for so long.

Election Day is about hope. When we consider the dearth of female candidates, it’s hard not to wonder: Why is the progress women have made in other critical occupations missing in politics (particularly with representation so vital)?

Women are excelling professionally and athletically. Our participation in electoral politics should at least mirror this success. We need women who compete every day—at the office, in academics, in alternative professions that we have worked to establish and in the many sports that we have fought for and now play as competently and competitively as men.

We need the confident and able women we look up to on a daily basis — our bosses, co-workers, rivals, coaches, mothers—to step up and RUN. We need a fair and equal voice in the political debate and in the running of our country’s government. Keep in mind: We can’t win if we don’t show up.

  1. One Response to “Election Day Edition: Women run businesses, households, organizations. Why not for office?”

  2. Great article. The part about women not having the space, rather than interest, in politics really stands out. It is an important distinction. We need to free ourselves up to pursue our interests, whether its politics or otherwise, and ask more of our partners, support networks, communities. Thanks for sharing this, Katie. I hope to see your name on the ballot one day.

    By Erin Dullea on Nov 2, 2010

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