We need to understand that there is no formula for how women should lead their lives. That is why we must respect the choices that each woman makes for herself and her family. Every woman deserves the chance to realize her God-given potential.
– Hillary Rodham Clinton
Recently, discussions of women’s health have dominated national political discourse. Presidential candidates like Sen. Rick Santorum have come out strongly against contraception, and the Republican Party has followed suit by fighting contraception coverage as a matter of “religious liberty.” Women’s voices are noticeably absent from this debate.
American women are severely underrepresented in our decision-making bodies, to the detriment of the entire country. This underrepresentation renders public policy unable to properly take women’s concerns into account. One need only look at Rep. Darryl Issa’s all-male hearing on conception to see that men make most of the decisions on women’s issues. Our nation is at a disadvantage when our government is dominated by male voices and women’s personal experiences go unspoken for. If we believe that women are equal citizens with the same rights and capabilities as men (as we should), then we all should be encouraging our mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends to run for political office.
To be fair, there are high-profile female elected officials on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) helped women break into the “boy’s club” of national presidential politics. But for a nation that is more than 50% female, there is a shocking lack of women in Congress, state legislatures, governor’s offices, and other political offices throughout the country.
This isn’t because women are less likely to win elections than their male counterparts. In fact, research has shown that women are just as likely as men to raise adequate funds and win elections, if they run. Rather, the problem is that women aren’t running at nearly the same rate as men. The political world seems to be unfriendly territory for women; all the more reason for them to run and challenge the status quo.
Highly qualified women are less likely to seek office than men for a number of reasons. Several studies suggest that men are more likely to be asked to run. Moreover, men are more likely to see themselves as qualified for office, or as capable of balancing their family life with a political campaign.
The cultural norm that women should stay at home for child rearing still influences our society as a whole. Women and men are equally responsible for parenting; the onus should not be women’s alone. No woman should be kept from running for office because she feels primarily responsible for domestic obligations. Reconciling family life with a political career is obviously a very complicated challenge, but women shouldn’t be limited by their family lives any more than men.
Without more equal numerical representation of women in politics, public policy that turns women’s bodies into male politicians’ political pawns will continue to hurt our country. The women of America are paying the price for our misguided policies, when they should be crafting the legislation in the first place. Men don’t know what’s best for women’s health, and they never have. The sooner the political world learns this lesson, the better.
50.8% of the country is female. In 2007, only 16.3% of the members of the U.S. House were women, with an almost equal percentage (16%) in the Senate. Only 18% of governors, 24.1% of statewide elected officials, and 23.5% of state legislators are women. Even worse, a mere 10% of mayors in America’s 100 largest cities are women. This alarming underrepresentation has severely limited women’s voices in government. This is not only unfair, it’s simply wrong.
Americans can’t turn a blind eye to this issue anymore. We need to do everything in our power to change this disparaging historical trend. Every citizen, especially political professionals and staffers, should reach out to qualified women to run for office at every level of government. In addition, interest groups, nonprofits, and other political organizations should reach out to potential female candidates, encourage them to break into politics, and provide professional political support when they do run.
Leaders in both major political parties need to aggressively recruit female candidates and try to create a political culture where women are just as welcome as men. Contrary to popular belief, men aren’t better at governing, more capable of leadership, or more qualified for the rigors of politics than women. Women have already had a tremendous impact on national affairs, and we are a better nation because they have asserted their rightful place as equals in our political system. Now we must accelerate that process and shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.