Project Wonderful

Friday, January 24, 2014

Why We Need More Women In Our Legislatures

I want to talk to you guys about something that is very important to me. Women make up slightly more than half of the United States’ adult population and have outperformed men in voter turnout in every election since 1980, yet they make up less than 24% of state legislators and only 18.5% of Congress, hardly representative for a representative democracy. From a global perspective, the United States falls below the international average for percent of female elected officials in the lower house, ranking 79th a tie with Albania.

I've posted a lot about HOW we get women in elected office, but I wanted to go in depth as to why. Please note a lot of these lessons are transferable to other historically underrepresented groups and I plan to keep discussing these kinds of studies and theories on my blog.

1) We need more women to get more women. One thing some of my more skeptical friends have asked about recruiting women to run for office (or LGBT people or people of color) is "Why ask people to run if they don't want to? Maybe women just don't want to run." As I've said before it's very difficult to aspire to something that you can't envision. In order for women to be inspired to run for office we need possibility models who remind us of ourselves and whose paths we can imagine following.

2) We need someone looking them in the eyes. When a legislative body debates an issue like maternity leave, it helps to have a mother in the room. When we're talking about restricting access to birth control, cutting funding for breast cancer research, or ensuring equal pay, don't you want someone in that room who will actually be affected by that legislation? It's one thing to vote to cut funding for breast cancer research in the abstract, it's another thing to do so in front of a breast cancer survivor. Unconvinced? Consider that no state has passed marriage equality or a an inclusive non-discrimination bill without at least one out member in the legislature.

3) Women are more likely to pay attention to issues that impact women. Not only is there value in having women present when legislative bodies deliberate issues that disproportionately impact women, you will be unsurprised to learn that women are more likely than men to bring these issues to the forefront in the first place. We see women taking the lead on bills confronting sexual assault in the military, to equal pay legislation. Note, when we say "women prioritize issues that disproportionately impact women" we do not mean, as I had to explain to skeptical friend "women disproportionately prioritize issues that impact women." Women legislators ensure that issues that impact women are not ignored.

4) Diversity is good for leadership. Studies consistently show that groups comprised of individuals with diverse experiences, in this case in terms of gender, are more successful at solving problems than homogenous groups, even when those homogenous groups are comprised of experts. Ideally our legislatures would be both.

5) Women are better at compromise, more likely to pursue institutional legislative reform and more responsive and more persistent in the quest for solutions to constituent requests than their male counterparts. I feel like this last one should come with a disclaimer because I'm loathe to promote gender stereotypes or gender essentialism. At the same time we've been socialized how we've been socialized and God knows gender stereotypes have worked against women in politics, so why not let them work for us? We saw evidence of this phenomenon during October's government shutdown when women from both parties lead the way on seeking consensus.

Campaign Love, Women Power and Mine,


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