Women in Politics: The Barriers Women Face in Pursuing Political Careers

Gender divides and gender expectations are present in every walk of life. The world of politics is no exception.   

   As of 2010, 50.8 percent of people in the United States are women, according to census data. However, prior to the recent midterm elections, women comprised just 23 out of 100 United States senators and made up only about a fifth of the House of Representatives. 

   This trend is completely reversed by the Acalanes Associated Student Body (ASB), the group in charge of school-wide activities on campus. Five of the six ASB officers are women. 

   Between school elections and real ones, however, are miles of roadblocks in the way of female politicians, locally and nationally. 

   One common perception surrounding women in politics is that female politicians are often judged on the basis of their looks more than males. Rebecca Prozan, former candidate for San Francisco District 8 Supervisor and current head of public affairs at Google spoke on the subject.
“There is a different lens associated with women who run for office or are politically involved.  By lens, I mean that our physical appearance is looked at differently than men,” Prozan said. 

  Even in political races as high profile as the presidential election, some feel that women face discrimination from the general public based on their physical appearance. During the 2016 Republican primaries, then candidate, now President Donald Trump tweeted, “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” in reference to Republican female presidential candidate Carly Fiorina. 

    Along with judgment of appearance, women in politics are faced with many expectations that are not universal to all politicians. Debbie Mesloh, advisor to California senator Kamala Harris, speaks of her experience in the field. 

   “For a woman, it is the expectation that you are liked and that you fit into the pre-conceived society model of being a supportive personality and a wife and mother,”Mesloh said.

   If a female politician does not fit into the normal role of being a wife and mother, there are many additional challenges she must face. 

   “Because she had not found the right person and was single, it was assumed that something was wrong with her. The press really started being more friendly on this aspect after she was married. However, she never had kids of her own and this is already being discussed as a “vulnerability” if she decides to run for president,” Mesloh said.

   Challenges such as this one predominantly affect women. The media examines the personal lives and societal role of female politicians in much more depth than that of their male counterparts. 

   Some believe women in politics often have to contend with subconscious biases within the minds of voters. 

   “People are just used to seeing men in leadership and they are given a lot more latitude,” Mesloh said. 

  Gender inequality in politics can cause voters to be more cautious when considering casting their vote for a woman.

   “Because women are not extremely prevalent in politics, some voters view them as a risk and do not feel as comfortable voting for a woman candidate as they do for a male candidate,” junior Cole Swensen said. 

   The heavily male dominated past of politics in our country still dictates the narrative of female politicians today.

 “If you’re a woman in politics, no matter the education level, no matter the strength of your policy proposals, views, etc, you will always be looked at differently,” Ophelia Luchin, member of the Acalanes class of 2017 said. 

     According to junior Olivia Pellegrini, this bias begins with the reception of female politician’s ideas.

   “I feel like many women’s ideas are viewed lesser than men’s for no reason. It isn’t because  women have achieved a lesser education or occupation, it is solely based on their gender,” Pellegrini said. 

   Often, men are assumed to be more capable or more likely to be elected to office than women. 

   “I have worked in law enforcement for nearly fifteen years and people routinely assume that my husband, not me, is the lawyer, police commissioner or former prosecutor,” Suzy Loftus, candidate for San Francisco District Attorney, said. 

 Not only do women face challenges getting elected, but also face additional hurdles once in office.

   “I have definitely had male activists be more aggressive towards me than they are to my male counterparts on the school board,” San Francisco School Board member Rachel Norton said. 

   There are those, however, who believe that gender inequality in politics is overstated. 

   “People generally misinterpret the bias against women in politics. Women and men receive almost the same media coverage. In terms of elections, they run similar campaigns. Ideological polarization shapes the identity of a candidate based on party lines, not gender,” junior Jamie Bishop said. 

   Women also may be less inclined to run for political office face as a result of discouraging notions towards pursuing positions of power from a young age. 

   A study by political science professors Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox’s 2012 study of gender in politics shows the imbalance of genders in running for office. 

“Men were 16 percentage points more likely than women to have considered running for office. Notably, this gender gap persisted across political party, income level, age, race, profession, and region.”

   This disparity in political ambition may be attributed to expectations of women in society, and lessons taught to girls from a young age. 

   Women are taught to be quiet and subordinate from a young age. 

   “We aren’t trained to ask and take risks. Running for office means you have to ask a lot, of your family, of your friends and of supporters. All of that entails risk,” Prozan said.

  Some hold the belief that women actually have an advantage in the political arena, based off a term known as “identity politics.” 

   “I would vote for a woman because of her gender in order to make a statement against injustices females in politics face,” junior Jaedyn Boynton said. 

   According to this belief, many women receive the votes of other women because of their gender. 

   “This type of identity politics is incredibly divisive and distracts voters from the core values of the politician, and instead focuses on his or her gender,” senior Colin Kirbach said. 

   On the other hand, not everyone is interested in gender as a factor in who they cast their ballot for. 

  “I believe that gender should not be the deciding factor in an election. I would never vote for a woman only because she is a woman,” Bishop said. 

   Similarly, some do not let gender influence their decision, as long as they agree with a candidates policy. 

   “I do not care if you are male or female, as long as you are good at your job. I value merit more than anything. If that means that every senator is a female, then great! If that means that every senator is male, then great. When I go and vote on November 6th, I couldn’t care less about the individual’s gender. I will vote for whoever is the most qualified to represent my values,” Kirbach said. 

   Some suppose that female politicians use their gender to gain popularity, and are not hindered by being a woman.

   “I do not believe women face any obstacles in politics. No male politician has more rights than a women politician and vice versa. In fact, some female politicians have used being a female as an advantage. Hillary Clinton for example, used “I’m with her”, as her campaign slogan,” Kirbach said. 

   Although there are differing opinions on the role of women in politics and drawbacks they face, there is no question that women are making progress in politics. 

    “I did not have role models for strategists, communication directors or campaign managers.  I wanted to be a communications director. Some of the obstacles I faced were struggles to find female mentors, challenges to be included in the inner circle when it was all men, having a person in leadership to go outside of their comfort zone and their own network to put their faith and trust in me to do the job,” Mesloh said.

   Today, young women have a variety of role models to look up to in politics. As well as politicians themselves, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg or Hillary Clinton, countless companies and organizations are dedicated to encouraging young women to pursue their passions. 

    “Organizations like Emerge have done a lot to encourage women to run and teach them the political skills they need to be successful,” Norton, San Francisco school board member said.

   Though there have been tremendous strides toward equality for women in politics, especially with the election of so many women in the recent midterms. But, there is always more that can be done.

  “I think we have to do a better job supporting women of color and low-income working women, specifically, to run for office,” Norton said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s