By Maria Bowe
As 2011 begins, campaign buzz for the coming 2012 elections builds. Reporters speculate about the future success of potential candidates on both ends of the spectrum from incumbent Obama to veteran Mike Huckabee. Excluding Sarah Palin, who, at this point, is more punch line than presidential candidate (reactions to her TLC show “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” only further prove this), the ballots are missing representatives of 50% of the population. Where are the women candidates?
Women have risen to power in countries all over the world—there are female presidents in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Finland, India, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Lithuania, and Switzerland, and female prime ministers in Australia, Bangladesh, Croatia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Slovakia, and Trinidad and Tobago, not to mention the various female ambassadors, chairpersons, and members of parliament. And though we do have several current examples of powerful women in office, notably Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Elena Kagan, there are not nearly enough to support the United States’ proposed image equality in politics. This begs the question: why is it that there are not more women in office? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?
Our country’s lack of women in office is influenced not so much by voter preferences, but more so by internal issues. Recent research has found that American women are still very much affected by “traditional” gender roles and the balance of power “ideal.” Rather than taking ownership for ideas and portraying themselves as game-changers, women continue to live up to the passive, reactive image they believe is expected of them. In a sociological survey, only 28% of female candidates, versus 46% of male political candidates agreed with the statement, “It was entirely my idea to run,” while 22% of women and only 14% of men said, “I had not seriously thought about running until someone else suggested it to me.” The research proved further that, given our social context, women continue to believe that being in positions of power desexualizes them, and that they should instead maintain roles subordinate to men. It is not that women are not ambitious; it is that they are discouraging their own ambition in favor of maintaining their current status as citizens with inferior status. In essence, the lack of women in power is a self-perpetuating cycle.
It is absolutely unacceptable for this kind of behavior to continue. Waiting for change to happen on its own is naïve and ineffective. Women need to realize that it is not the duty of society to change social norms, but their own personal responsibility to ensure equality. Women have to rise above imminent criticism in order to accomplish their goals.
Some efforts toward this goal have gained strength in the past few years, including movements like ‘The White House Project”—an initiative geared toward encouraging women to vote and run for office and empowering women leaders in business and politics. The organization sponsors leadership conferences and events to drum up support for their cause, and has a huge online following via Twitter and Facebook. Similarly, WUFPAC (Women Under Forty Political Action Committee, started in 1999) is a nonpartisan committee that supports women running for office with the aim of getting more women into office and building the seniority of women in Congress by electing them at a young age. Groups like these, however, are not effective on their own.
Regardless of party or constituency, women need to have the confidence to make their opinions heard; women have to believe that they can make a difference in politics and then actually do so. We can blame the Republicans, the Liberals, the voters, and men—but in the end, women create their own political presence. So, in the New Year, go get ’em, girls.