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Capable but Missing: A Lack of Female Representation in the US Government

Who Cares?

The road to achieve a female presence in government was long and winding, with the official fight lasting from 1848 (the beginning of the women’s rights movement) to the present day. In 1848, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton held the Seneca Falls Convention, at which they created a Declaration of Sentiments. This declaration demanded, “… a variety of rights for women, including suffrage” (“Milestones for Women in American Politics”), and it was an important precursor to women’s having the right to vote. Though the Declaration of Sentiments did not become legislation, it was an important symbol that emboldened women to progress in politics. In 1866, Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the first woman to run for the US House of Representatives, despite lacking the right to vote (“Milestones for Women in American Politics”). While she was not elected, this was another huge stepping stone for women, as it proved that a woman could run for political office and paved the way for future female leaders to come. Another major step forward for women across the country was in 1872, when Victoria Woodhull ran for president on the Equal Rights Party ticket (“Victoria Woodhull”). Woodhull was the first woman to ever run a campaign for president, and, despite her loss, she exemplified the capability of women across the country. It is important to note that Victoria Woodhull ran for president before women were allowed to vote: this was a very singular action and provoked many. While women currently hold about 20 percent of political seats in government, no female president has ever been elected, and only 13 women have ever run a campaign for president in the 242 years that the United States has been a country (Bohanan). Why is this the case? Are there perception biases that influence women’s views on their fitness for or potential in government? What are the leading factors making it more difficult for women to play a role in government? And what limits women currently in office from progressing to higher positions of government?

 

This Pertains to You!

Do you have women in your life that you look up to? Do you have women in your life that you respect? If yes, this is completely relevant in your life! These capable women are being limited to certain roles in our society. We as a country are making it increasingly difficult for women to achieve a presence in government, and this is not acceptable. As you read the following paragraphs, keep track of those women whom you look up to. Be it a mother, grandmother, teacher, or friend.

 

Connection to My Life

I feel a strong connection to this topic because of my strong connection to my sister, and my many female friends that I am closest to in my life. I see my female friends as intellectual equals, and in some cases, intellectually superior. However not many of them have any interest in running for office. I myself have often dreamed about becoming the president of the United States, as many of my male friends have. But why are the aspirations of these capable women limited? A few of the issues I will be delving into will include media portrayals of women, bias against women from different styles of upbringings, and the struggles that women must go through to achieve a political presence in government. The causes of this issue are the focus of this research project, for I have been brought up with the belief that women should be allowed the same opportunities as men. And if women are of equal stature and intellectual capability as men, how is it that we do not have an equal gender presence of political representation in our government?

 

The History

The roots of gender inequality can be traced back hundreds of years, however I will begin at the gender roles of early Colonial America. According to a student publication titled “Gender Roles in Colonial America,” women of early America “… took care of young children, bought and prepared food, directed the activities of indentured servants or slaves, and performed all manner of other household chores.” According to the same source, men also had many different roles in society. To name a few of these, men held social power, received education, and participated in government. These early gender norms did not set an easy path for women to become politically active in America. These norms are very much reflective of the current political situation in America today. I strongly believe that the aftermath of these early gender norms have deterred many modern American women from running for office.

While major strides have been made since colonial times, there is still a clear imbalance in politics. Women were not granted the right to vote until the women’s rights movement, extending from 1848-1920 (“The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848-1920”). There was no female presence in Congress until Jeannette Rankin was elected in 1916. This was only 112 years ago. 

While it took a long time for women to reach a presence in government, they eventually succeeded despite the challenging odds they faced. Technically, the first women to have a presence in any form of political government were “… three Republicans elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1894” (Brown). If the official fight for women’s rights started in 1848, it took 46 years for women to gain a political seat in government. In the grand scheme of things, this may not seem like a very long time. But when considering how hard women had to fight to achieve this, it was an important milestone. As the push for women’s equality continued to move forward, more and more progress was being made: “The first woman in a Cabinet-level position was Frances Perkins, appointed as secretary of labor by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933” (Brown). At this point, women had only had the right to vote for thirteen years. To zoom out, some of the statistics of women and their role and society are staggering when considering that the amount of female presence in government was almost none: “Women have outnumbered men on college campuses since 1988. They have earned at least one-third of law degrees since 1980 and accounted for fully one-third of medical school students by 1990” (Warner, “The Women’s Leadership Gap”). Women and men were receiving the same calibre of education, yet many still think that women are incapable of handling a role in government.

 

This chart shows the upward trend that has taken place in the United States, however does not account for the plateau of female representation in more recent years.

 

Take a look at the following link: take a few minutes to click around and explore this website. Notice the placement in terms of rankings of the United States compared to the other countries presented. Return to this page when you have finished. Click Here!

 

The Present Day Problem

There is a clear disconnect between the capability of women and their lacking presence in our government. Today in 2018, women hold 20 of the 100 seats in the Senate, and 85 of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, amounting to 105 of the 535 seats in the United States Congress. Women have held rallies, marches, conventions, and have received the national spotlight to amount to equal rights for women, and many might say that this has already been achieved. Women comprise a majority of the US population. They make up: “47 percent of the U.S. labor force and 49 percent of the college-educated workforce” (Warner, “Women’s Leadership Gap”). This data shows an almost perfect split of jobs between men and women in the United States. But when we look at female representation in Congress, the percentage of women drops to about 20%. This is an astonishing gap considering the number of capable women in our country. What is causing this major gap in representation, and how can we move forward and spark change?

 

 

While the percentages of women in politics today are vastly different those of the 1800-1900’s, it has recently been an uphill battle to our current position. “In the 1980s and early 1990s, the percentage of women running for office increased steadily, culminating in the so-called Year of the Woman in 1992, when the number of women in the U.S. Senate suddenly doubled” (Warner, “Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap”). However this trend was brought to an abrupt halt: “In more recent election cycles, however, the percentage of female candidates has essentially plateaued. …[T]he number of women elected to Congress remained basically flat, and the number of women in state legislatures actually decreased” (Warner, “Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap”). With an increasingly educated female population, why are we seeing a plateau in female representation? According to Judith Warner, “… it has been estimated that, at the current rate of change, it will take until 2085 for women to reach parity with men in key leadership roles in the United States.”

 

A Solution

Our country has a history of not being gender-inclusive in leadership roles in our government. Women make up fifty percent of our population, and yet only makes up about twenty percent of the elected roles in government. This gap in female representation will only be solved using a three-step process. Through this process, I hope to not only propose a solution, but show how this process would progress and evolve into completely solving the problem of inequality. The first step of this process will be identifying the factors that are discouraging young women from pursuing certain leadership roles in our government, specifically Congress. One main area of interest in this step of the process will be media and its portrayals of women in our society. I strongly believe that media has an effect on women that is dissuading them from pursuing roles in our government. Also worthy of investigation is the gender norms already set in our country that is potentially discouraging young women from exploring career paths in political settings. The second step of this solution will be to change the factors that are dissuading women from entering politics as a career option. For example, if media turns out to be a key contributor to the lack of female presence in government, action must be taken to change the way media is portraying women in outlets such as social media, movies, TV shows, and others. Another example could be the idea that women are not competent enough for a job in leading American politics. If this is the case, one must strive to prove to these ill-informed minds that women are truly capable and, in some cases, more capable than the men currently holding the majority of our governmental seats. The basis of this step will be to bring about ways of change to create a different stigma around the roles of women in society. The ways in which this will be achieved include protests, lobbying to Congressmen and Congresswomen, changes in the media portrayals of women, and education. Continuing to educate the minds of this country is a growing issue, as many in the United States are known to be stubborn. However, this should not stop the fight for equal rights. This leads into my third step: the third and final step is to instill in young women the idea that they should be pursuing roles of leadership in government, and ensuring that young men and women alike understand the competency and ableness of women in our country. This proposed three-step solution will work because of its ability to hit all of the important roadblocks of this issue, except one crucial opponent of this problem: sexism. Sexism is possibly a key contributor to the unequalness of women in Congress. If this is the case, the only logical way of preventing this is to stop future sexism from emerging. To do this, the continuation of education in young people is a necessity. It is important to note the previous progress made over time in this area. Before 1916, women held zero percent of the elected seats in Congress. Today, they hold about twenty percent. This trend shows to be a good one, however recently, the number of women running for Congress has plateaued (Warner). This is not the trend that we are hoping to see, but rather the opposite. As a country priding ourselves on equal rights, we should be striving to have completely equal representation in our government. Until this happens, we cannot say that equal rights have been achieved. Female friends of mine who are intellectually equal or intellectually superior to myself should not be experiencing discouraging factors associated with running for roles in the United States government. However, in this solution, all obstacles standing in the way of women procuring an equal number of seats in government will be addressed and hopefully changed, so that the forces are lifted for a clearer path to success.

 

A Call to Action:

Now you know about the important gender imbalance in our government today. But what now? Well, there are a few things you can do to help solve this pressing issue:

  1. Educate! Many people do not know about this issue, and the reasons that it is in need of resolve. Spreading awareness is an essential part of solving this issue.
  2. Become involved in rallies and help to support the gender-equality community. You can do this by searching the internet for rallies happening near you. Invite some friends, and join the fight!
  3. Call you local senators and congressman! Giving a call goes a long way – attempt to convince them to join the fight for a gender-balance in government.
  4. For the women currently in government positions, show them your support. Show that you are behind them and that you support their mission to better the country.

 

Works Cited

Bohanan, Rebecca. “12 Women Who Ran For President Before Hillary.” The Huffington Post,

TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 July 2016,

www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-bohanan/12-women-who-ran-for-pres_b_11172668.html.

 

Brown, Anna. “The Data on Women Leaders.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic

Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 17 Mar. 2017,

www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/03/17/the-data-on-women-leaders/.

 

“Gender Roles in Colonial America.” Gender and Sexuality in Colonial America,

public.gettysburg.edu/~tshannon/341/sites/Gender%20and%20Sexuality/Gender%20Roles.htm.

 

“Milestones for Women in American Politics.” Milestones for Women in American Politics,

Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics, www.cawp.rutgers.edu/facts/milestones-for-women.

 

“The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848-1920.” History Art & Archives United House of

Representatives, History Art & Archives United House of Representatives, history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Womens-Rights/.

 

“Victoria Woodhull.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 1 Mar. 2017,

www.biography.com/people/victoria-woodhull-9536447.

 

Warner, Judith. “Fact Sheet: The Women’s Leadership Gap.” Center for American Progress,

Center for American Progress, 7 Mar. 2014, www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2014/03/07/85457/fact-sheet-the-womens-leadership-gap/.

 

Warner, Judith. “The Women’s Leadership Gap.” Center for American Progress, Center for

American Politics, 4 Aug. 2015, www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2015/08/04/118743/the-womens-leadership-gap/.

 

“The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848–1920 | US House of Representatives: History, Art &

Archives.” The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848-1920 | US House of Representatives:

History, Art & Archives, History, Art & Archives,

history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Women

s-Rights/.

 

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1ideo7s8_CN2NJRdkTa_UnnqVEIswXyu9VP_SQEmcBok/edit

“Women in Congress.” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, History, Art &

Archives, history.house.gov/Exhibition-and-Publications/WIC/Women-in-Congress/.

 

CAWP, (Center for American Women and Politics). “Women in Elective Office 2016.” Women in

Elective Office 2016 | CAWP, Rutgers,

www.cawp.rutgers.edu/women-elective-office-2016.

 

Bohanan, Rebecca. “12 Women Who Ran For President Before Hillary.” The Huffington Post,

TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 July 2016,

www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-bohanan/12-women-who-ran-for-pres_b_11172668.html.

 

Kliff, Sarah. “US Rank in Women’s Government Dropped 9 Spots in the Past Year.” The US Is Ranked 104th in Women’s Representation in Government, Vox, 8 Mar. 2017, www.vox.com/identities/2017/3/8/14854116/women-representation.

 

“Graphs of Jobs in the United States Government.” The Data on Women Leaders, Pew Research Center, 17 Mar. 2017, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/03/17/the-data-on-women-leaders/.

 

“Photograph of Hilary Clinton.” Hilary Clinton Biography, www.biography.com/people/hillary-clinton-9251306.

 

“Photograph of Jeannette Rankin.” A Hundred Years of Misogyny: Hillary Clinton, Jeannette Rankin, and the “First Woman” Elections of 1916 and 2016, Huff Post, 24 Oct. 2016, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/a-hundred-years-of-misogyny-hillary-clinton-jeannette_us_580e30fbe4b0f8715789fe7a.

 

“Martha Hughes Cannon in 1892.” Martha (Mattie) Hughes Cannon, 1857-1932, Utah Division of State History, ilovehistory.utah.gov/people/difference/cannon.html.

 

“Photograph of Senator Kamala Harris.” Kamala Harris: Congress Should Have the Same ‘Courage and Compassion’ as Students at Florida High School, The Hill, 19 Feb. 2018, thehill.com/homenews/senate/374538-kamala-harris-congress-should-have-the-same-courage-and-compassion-as.

 

Clark, Bill. “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Holds Her Weekly News Conference in the Capitol on Sept. 14, 2017.” ‘Unacceptable and Disappointing’: Nancy Pelosi Backtracks on Defense of John Conyers, TIME, 28 Nov. 2017, time.com/5038728/nanci-pelosi-john-conyers/.

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COMMENTS: 2
  1. April 27, 2018 by Cassie Delfini

    Hi Daniel! I think your project is great, and it looks like you put a lot of hard work into it. I think the photos you chose were very accurate in representing your data. I like how your quiz was more of a questionnaire because it gives people a chance to express their opinion on the topic. I feel like some of the paragraphs can be shortened for some people to view quickly. I think you did an overall great job.

  2. April 29, 2018 by Andrew Riordan

    I really liked this project. Have you heard of Emerge? There are branches throughout the U.S., and it is an organization that aims to encourage the election of more women into office. It seems like that might be a group in which you’d be interested.

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