Parents, society, and the media have trained males from a young age to question the abilities of girls. They hear sayings such as “girls are not as strong as boys; it is a scientific fact” from their classmates and role models, and they begin to believe that it is true. This sexist attitude continues throughout life, and follows women into adulthood, where women are constantly judged on their appearance and emotions by coworkers and society in general. They are subjected to catcalling, sexual harassment, and prejudgments based on their clothes. Gender inequalities exist at all levels of society, including amongst elected United States government officials. Without enough women in government positions, gender inequalities elsewhere cannot be solved because the issue will not gain enough momentum or support.
Gender inequality, however, is a difficult problem to solve, as measures have already been taken to make life equal and fair—such as women’s suffrage—yet people constantly find loopholes to exclude women from powerful positions, rightful pay, and fair treatment. If people do not listen to the law, to historical precedent, and to basic human rights of equality and fairness, then there seems to be little this country can do to increase equality amongst the genders. This inequality seems most prevalent in government positions, where very few women are elected by the population to serve the people. However, if the country were to simply increase the number of women representing women in the legislative branch of the United States government, women may be granted equal rights because these issues would then be truly supported. The problem proves to be that it is extremely difficult to convince women to run for office, and it is even more difficult for them to be elected.
The legislative branch of the United States federal government has very few women serving as elected officials. Even though the 2013 Census reported that 50.8% of the total U.S. population is female, women only fill twenty out of one hundred seats in the U.S. Senate, with only six of them representing the Republican Party (“United States”; “Facts”). In the House of Representatives, there are only eighty-four women (out of 435 seats) with only twenty-two of them being Republicans (“Facts”). With the majority gender in the United States being female, these statistics imply that females are underrepresented. Instead of women debating and making legislation concerning issues that mainly concern women—such as abortion, equal wages amongst the genders, and violence against women—men are discussing them. Successful and fair laws cannot be made if the people making them are not properly informed or invested in the issues at hand. Other countries do not seem to possess a problem with having women in charge, as many countries currently have or have had female presidents. The United States ranks ninety-fifth amongst all other countries in terms of the percentage of women who serve in national legislatures. Rwanda has a lower parliamentary house that is 63.8% female and an upper house that is 38.5% female. The United Kingdom is ranked sixty-ninth, with 22.5% of their upper and lower houses being female. The United States has a lower house that is 17.8% female and an upper house that is 20% female (“Women in”). Thirteen nations, such as Germany,—which has not been a democracy for nearly as long as the U.S—Argentina, Australia, and Finland, have women that are serving as president or prime minister (“Top Female”). The United States is, therefore, setting a sexist standard and showing that it is not a progressive country by having so few women serving as elected officials.
People see that the government employs very few women especially in leadership positions, which some people take as a sign that maybe they should do the same within their own businesses. Others simply develop an opinion that women are not qualified to be leaders or to even form thoughts on topical issues. The government is preaching sexism by way of example, and it creates a problem of underrepresentation and wide spread sexism that cannot currently be solved because there are not enough females in government to work on fixing the issue.
In the United States, many qualified women are perceived as unsuitable for government positions. For example, many blame Hillary Clinton’s emotions on the disaster in Benghazi when she served as Secretary of State. Jessica Valenti, author, blogger, and the founder of the Feministing blog, states that “when women give even the slightest hint of feeling intensity over a particular issue—something you’d think we’d want our elected officials to feel—it’s seen as over-the-top. Hysterical. Emotional” (Valenti). Male candidates, however, can yell, pump their fists in anger, and fight for causes that they are passionate about without anyone blinking an eye; no one claims that these men are just being emotional—they are just being good, feisty politicians.
These issues lead to other criticisms from the public, such as that women, like Hillary Clinton, cannot be successful politicians because they need to focus on being mothers, grandmothers, and caretakers instead of their jobs and political issues. For women in the United States, they must be homemakers and mothers first, and career women second; otherwise they will be harshly judged as cold or as a failure. Men, however, are never asked if being a father or grandfather will interfere with their careers or political campaigns. It never crosses anyone’s minds that men could be distracted or unable to be successful politicians because of their families because men are supposed to be career-oriented in the United States.
Others believe that women do not possess the political ambition to run for office. The public views women as less competitive and more intimidated by the intense competition that coincides with running for a federal government position than most men are (Lawless). Women are taught to be less competitive and that they should not run for office simply by having so few role models to learn from, as so few women have run for and been elected to office. In addition, many political action committees (PACs) and other campaign supporters want to support the incumbents, which are typically men, because they possess a higher chance of winning. According to American University professor Mary Gray, “men tend to put money behind other men” (Tam). In addition, it has been proven that women do not tend to vote for other women, as few women serve in elected positions even though 60.4% of eligible women voted in the 2008 elections, while only 55.7% of men voted; in fact, this has been a trend in every election since 1964 (“Statistics”). Women do not have the support, direction, or guidance from other women, and they lack sufficient financial backing. This leads to women being discouraged from running for office, which, in turn, results in other women not being confident enough in the few female candidates available.
One solution that may increase the number of females in federal elected positions would be to expand the ballots in congressional elections to use a “fair representation system,” and requiring that one woman be on every ballot. Steven Hill of The Nation states that the “fair representation system” involves utilizing multi-seat districts or multi-seat ballots would group together like-minded voters, and representatives “win in proportion to their vote share” (Hill). It has been proven that expanding the ballot like this leads to more females being elected simply because there are more opportunities being provided. Nancy L. Cohen, author and the leading national expert on women and American politics, states in her Pacific-Standard that “even among nations with similar levels of economic development and voter support for women’s equality, women win office in systems that elect two or more representatives in each district” (Cohen). The use of a “fair representation” electoral system has proved successful in other democratic countries. In most cases, it creates equal opportunities because the idea of female candidates being unable to do the job is deeply rooted in the public, and so the problem proves too complex to be fixed by simply saying that women should be elected within the existing system.
A “fair representation” might also increase the number of female Republicans that are elected. Out of the ninety-nine women in the 113th United States Congress, only twenty-three were Republicans, meaning that many conservative women—along with women in general considering that it is one of the major parties—are underrepresented (“Statistics”). Simply increasing the number of female Republican candidates would not only increase the number of women elected, but also it would make the Republican Party more reputable in discussions concerning women’s rights. By expanding the field, women of all political affiliations will have the foundation for a fair campaign. The majority parties in the United States need to step forward, take responsibility, and practice the democratic ideals that they claim to represent.
In addition, the process of instating a “fair representation system” might increase female political ambition, which continues to be a problem that leads to so few women in the legislative branch. Girls of all ages tend to express less interest in becoming political officials. By featuring the issue publicly in the news and in front of Congress and the President, these girls may “get a jolt of political ambition” because they are able to watch women like themselves lobby and debate for a meaningful, controversial cause (Cohen). In order to expand the ballot and require that one woman be on the ballot from each party, major political action would need to be taken by both representatives and the public. Once the issue raised awareness, lobbyists would need to bring it to a congressional representative to sponsor the bill, who would then need backing from other representatives in order to get it to a congressional committee, as well as a Political Action Committee in order to receive any financial support necessary to campaign for this bill to be passed. The bill would then need to pass through congressional committees and pass through the House of Representatives and the Senate after many lengthy debates.
Overall, it would be a long process to get a bill such as this passed into law, and the time and money put into the process may seem wasted. It would be difficult to find a strong number of representatives to support it because it is a large and controversial issue—it involves changing our current election system, which we have had for hundreds of years—which delays the process. If it did make it to either the House or the Senate, another delay could result from the fact that the bill may face problems in terms of constitutionality—some people may feel as though it is interfering with the democratic process. Even after bills are passed into law, it may take additional years for the law to be implemented; if the Affordable Care Act has taught us anything, it is how difficult it is to pass and implement a controversial law in a divided government. Therefore, the opposition may propose that this solution is not feasible, as the process would take a long period of time and still may not even pass into law or solve the problem of women being underrepresented in Congress.
Most bills and laws take a long time to come to fruition, but that does not mean that they are not worth fighting for before Congress and the President. In addition, the longer it takes for the bill to pass implies that the law would have a more solid foundation, and fewer people could question or oppose it; the more times the House and the Senate amend this law, the more details it fleshes out and the more problems it addresses. This includes discussing its constitutionality, which could alone take up months of discussion. However, discussing the constitutionality of this proposed solution would save it from later being brought to the Supreme Court after it had been implemented—it is harder to change a law than it is to implement it. Plus, it would take years or decades without this law to increase the number of women in Congress, so if it is a cause worth fighting for, it should not matter that it may take years for a solution to be put in place, as long as it eventually succeeds and helps the people it aims to. At least taking action would prove that this is an issue worth discussing, and girls who might have a hidden love and ambition for politics might discuss it.
Did historical precedent stop anyone from fighting for women’s suffrage or civil rights? Action needs to be taken to increase the number of women in Congress, and this is the only solution that not only makes the government require that women be given a chance, but it also spreads awareness and hopefully fosters political ambition in young women who will then use the law to run for office themselves. It kills two birds with one stone, which no other solution to this problem guarantees. If this law were to pass, more women would be elected, and would be able to fight for gender equality.
Cohen, Nancy L. “Why Women Are Such a Minority in Elected Office.” Pacific Standard: Politics & Law. The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media and Public Policy, 28 Oct. 2014. Web. 23 Mar. 2015.
“Facts.” Center for American Women and Politics. Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
Hill, Steven. “Why Does the US Still Have So Few Women in Office?” The Nation. The Nation, 7 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 Feb. 2015.
Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard L. Fox. “Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women In U.S. Politics.” American University Women & Politics Institute. Women & Politics Institute, Jan. 2012. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
“Statistics.” Statistics. National Women’s Political Caucus, n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.
Tam, Ruth. “What Keeps Women from Running for Top Elected Offices?” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2015.
“Top Female Leaders Around the World.” Time. Time Inc., n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
“United States Census Bureau.” USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. US Census Bureau, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.
Valenti, Jessica. “May The 2016 Elections Be Full of Angry Women Politicians.” Opinion. The Guardian, 4 Mar. 2015. Web. 8 Mar. 2015.
“Women in Parliaments.” Women in National Legislatures: Rankings and Election Systems. Representation 2020, n.d. Web. 25 May 2015.