Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Gender Representation in Politics

Jennifer L. Lawless

This week, Democratic and Republican women won some major primary elections here in the States.  [Insert ‘go team’ comment here – without sounding flippant or bringing back the feminist movement a few decades.]  Since then, their victories have been dissected and trisected and analyzed according to weight, hair style, family background… oh, and stance on the issues. So while we commend the successes of women in politics, and the pursuit of more equal gender representation, author Jennifer Lawless wants us to pause, reflect, and look at the stats.

It’s not that huge a milestone.

Here’s her take on how women are still severely under-represented, and what political parties need to do to rectify the gender disparity.


Via CNN: No new dawn for women in politics

By Jennifer L. Lawless, Special to CNN

June 9, 2010

Washington (CNN) — Today’s newspapers, websites, and cable news programs imply that yesterday’s election results signal remarkable progress for women in politics.

Referring to the victories of Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, Sharron Angle and Blanche Lincoln, CNN.com ran the headline, “Women Win Big in Tuesday Primaries.” MSNBC.com followed suit, flashing across its homepage, “It’s Ladies Night at the Ballot Box.” The Washington Post ran a story entitled, “Women Triumph in Races Across the Country.” And the Daily Beast summarized last evening’s events by concluding that “Women Rule Primary Night.”

It is the dawn of a new day, one in which both Democrats and Republicans understand the importance of electing women.

Except that it’s probably not.

I am all for celebrating women’s political progress and electoral fortunes. And I have no interest in minimizing the successes several women saw last night. Nikki Haley, a Tea Party candidate, overcame scandalous rumors and advanced to a runoff election which will be held in two weeks. If she wins the race — and many expect that she will — then Haley will be very well-positioned to become South Carolina’s first female governor.

Meg Whitman, the former CEO and president of eBay, spent $71 million of her own fortune to defeat Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in California’s gubernatorial primary. Pollsters and pundits expect a tight general election race between Whitman and Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Whitman is the underdog, but if she wins, then she, too, will become her state’s first female governor. Blanche Lincoln’s surprising victory over Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter brings the U.S. senator one step closer to holding onto her Senate seat (although she still faces an uphill general election battle against Republican John Boozman). And there is no question that Carly Fiorina and Sharron Angle will give the incumbents they seek to defeat — U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid — much to worry about between now and November 2, 2010.

These women, however, represent only a fraction of the total number of candidates seeking positions of political power. Yet their famous faces tend to obscure, at least in part, women’s severe numeric under-representation in U.S. politics, as well as their prospects for major political gains in November.

In the 111th Congress, 83 percent of the members of the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate are men, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. The numbers are not much better at the state level, where more than three-quarters of state legislators across the country are men. Currently, men also occupy the governor’s mansion in 44 of the 50 states. And they run City Hall in 93 of the country’s 100 largest cities. Although 2010 will likely see a lower-than-usual incumbency advantage, the overwhelming majority of incumbents — most of whom are men — will still win.

The successful candidacies of women such as Haley, Whitman and Fiorina also make it easy for us to forget that Democrats and Republicans do not shoulder an equal burden for the dearth of women in politics. Sixty-nine Democratic and 21 Republican women hold seats in the U.S. Congress. This means that 77 percent of the women in the U.S. House and Senate are Democrats.

Keep reading at CNN.com > > >

About The Author

Jennifer L. Lawless

Jennifer L. Lawless is Professor of Government at American University, Washington DC, where she is also the Director of the Women and Politics Institute. She is the author of Becom...

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