As the election competition heats up, the field of presidential candidates is sorely lacking in one demographic: women.
Aside from Roseanne Barr, who recently announced her candidacy for the Green Party’s nomination, the only real female candidate has been Michele Bachmann, who called off her campaign after a disappointing finish in the Iowa caucus.
The imbalance of women in public office is nothing new. 1992 was heralded as the “Year of the Woman” after four women were elected to the Senate — a whopping 4% of the total number of senators.
According to Political Science Quarterly, a variety of factors contributed to the emergence of the year of the woman in 1992, including the increased importance of domestic rather than international issues.
Another study from the American Journal of Political Science found that “masculine instrumental traits increased the candidate’s perceived competence on a broader range of issues than the feminine traits of warmth and expressiveness,” which are perceived to be better equipped to handle issues of compassion.
Since 1992, women have made some progress in politics: 17% of senators in the 112th Congress are women, while 17.7% of the House of Representatives are female. Even with these growing numbers, it seems counterintuitive that a demographic that comprises 50.8% of the United States population would constitute such a minority of our government.
And it’s not because women aren’t involved in the political process — 66% of women 18 and older voted in the 2008 presidential election compared with 62% of men.
So why the disproportion of women in elected office?
Female politicians are subject to many more negative stereotypes than men — the common stereotypes include mother, pet, seductress and iron maiden, according to Communication Studies. Female politicians must tread carefully in constructing their public image, not wanting to appear to be either too feminine or too masculine.
In a recently released study commissioned by the Girl Scouts of America, researchers found that many young girls are aware of the political climate and perceive that they face more obstacles in attaining positions of leadership than their male counterparts.
Fortunately, however, the Girl Scouts are trying to do something to change that and the organization is launching a crusade to foster leadership potential in young girls, complete with a media awareness campaign and fundraising goals.
It’s a program college students should support if we hope to achieve gender parity. Although the most popular major for both men and women is business, men are far more likely than women to major in the other subjects with the highest earning potential, such as computer science and engineering, which clearly limits women’s leadership aptitude.
Given that women make up more than half of American college students at 56%, we should work to ensure that women are given the same opportunities for leadership as men. We should support programs like that of the Girl Scouts which promote female leaders.
As the Girl Scout slogan says, everyone should “be prepared” to be a leader.
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