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By Lucia Ponader
Women. Politics. These two words, and the thoughts and images that they conjure up, need to be talked about more often. When given the two words “women” and “politics,” one may think of Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, the staggering male to female ratio in politics, or the fact that women obtained the freedom to vote less than 100 years ago. That’s right. 100 years ago women were not allowed to vote; they remained silenced, suppressed, and censored, without representation in any form of politics. As time passed, America gradually started subsuming women into politics. In 1920 the 19th amendment was ratified, sanctioning women with the capacity to vote.
Women obtaining the right to vote was just the first step on the prolonged and extensive path to equality of representation in politics. This election year will go down in history. It betokens the first time that a woman has ever been a presidential nominee of either of the two major parties. Thus far, a woman has never been elected president of the United States. This year could change that. Clinton represents not only a tenacious woman in an area where men dominate; she represents an influential and inspirational figure to girls and women across America.
Women have never had a female president, or even an equal amount of female to male counterparts making decisions in the White House. The presidency has been comparatively homogenous. Women have not only been underrepresented, they have been misrepresented. Men have chosen health care policies for women, and they have chosen what to pay women and when to pay women. Men have mostly been the deciding factor of the laws that women must follow in America. All that could change because of the 2016 election, and after Clinton’s success in securing a spot as a presidential nominee, one might be tempted to conclude that women have made remarkable gains in the realm of politics. In some ways we have, but these “gains” are just things that should have happened many years ago. At the current rate, it will take hundreds of years in order for women to make up for the gap and be equally represented in politics.
Some people refute the idea that women need to be represented in politics by stating that women cannot perform as well, or that they just can’t amass voters like men can. Study after study finds that women perform just as well when running for office as the men they are running against. There are no differences in fundraising receipts, vote totals, or electoral success. Yet women remain severely under-represented in U.S. political institutions. Others argue that the fundamental reason why women are under-represented is because they do not run for office because they do not have the credentials or the preparedness as men. The facts exhibit that this statement is not entirely true.
The real reason why women are under-represented is because women are not encouraged to run, and the multitudes of women who are well-situated to run do not know that they are just as well-credentialed as men. These women don’t believe that they have the credentials to run, or that they would be just as capable as their male counterparts. Before women were able to participate freely in politics, the government was male-dominated, never to be touched by women. Society has predominately viewed political offices with male figures in mind, because only men have been elected. Women have not traditionally seen themselves in the office, therefore their political ambitions are not encouraged as much as men’s seem to be. Women have less encouragement to run for office, and therefor are more unsure of their credentials and if they would make a good candidate.
Jennifer Lawless, a Brookings senior fellow who also directs the Women and Politics Institute at American University, analyzed data from a 2011 study that surveyed a national random sample of “equally credentialed” women and men working in law, business, education and politics — four fields from which political candidates commonly emerge. Sixty-two percent of male respondents answered that they had considered running for office, while only 45 percent of female respondents said they had.
This needs to change. As Cynthia Terrell, chair of Fairvote’s “Representation 2020” argues, “We should ask for nothing less than parity in representation, and the push to achieve that goal in one generation, not half a millennium.” Society needs to wake up and ask themselves why 51 percent of the population has less than a fifth of the representation in Washington. Our nation needs to continue down the long and interminable path to equality, and maybe, one day soon, women can claim their proportionate share of politics.