A new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research research finds that Congress will not achieve gender parity until 2121 if nothing changes about how female candidates are pipelined. (According to my Day After Tomorrow-informed projections, by 2121 Congress will just consist of two women, a man, and a male wolf picking through the dilapidated remains of the continental U.S. in search of food scraps.) Clearly, something needs to change.
In May, the IWPR released its findings on political gender parity, and they show a very depressing extant gender gap and an equally depressing slow rate of women bridging that gap. If nothing changes, it will take Congress — which is currently just 20 percent female — 107 years to reach actually reflect gender demographics in our society.
In a subsequent report, the IWPR addressed the various reasons for this sluggish growth rate and found that a variety of factors hold women back, most of them sadly predictable. After conducting interviews with 45 experienced candidates and officeholders and convening several focus groups, the organization found that "he political pipeline whereby women campaign for and build long-term political careers is gendered and has significant gaps and barriers for women." Among those gaps and barriers: women don't have the same connections to donors that men do; political party leaders and power brokers are far less likely to approach women and encourage them to run for office; women experience all sorts of sexist garbage on the campaign trail — from the media, their colleagues and donors alike; and male candidates are more likely to have a stay-at-home wife who can take care of domestic duties while they campaign.
Encouragingly, the "confidence gap" doesn't seem an obstacle to female political achievement. According to the study's authors:
Ambition is not an issue or a deficit with these women. Most women self-recruited for their first office or campaign, and only one in four say others recruited them for their first office. Women candidates and elected officials display considerable interest in and indeed drive to run for offices at all levels, including higher office, have made personal and professional and financial sacrifices to engage in public service, and are distinctly political personalities who enjoy campaigning and have developed effective strategies for political success. These political women enjoy politics and in contrast to some statistical studies in which women have (on average) lower self-confidence than men, many of the study participants say that their self-confidence is one of their best assets.
Addressing these insidious barriers is a good first step to conquering them. There's a lot of unspoken (and obvious) shit that female candidates have to overcome to be on equal footing with their male peers; recognizing and addressing this will enable women to build necessary support networks and advocate for reform.
In the meantime, badass female politicians will just have to continue working twice as hard, and out-of-touch misogynists will just have to continue bumbling their way out of office.
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