American Women’s Interest in Politics — by RNP

When I discuss the coming presidential election and the presidential candidates with other women, I tend to get things like “oh, I don’t really follow politics” or “I like [presidential candidate] but I don’t know much about politics.” Or when I discuss my ideal world and how I feel about various policies and contemporary conversations about politics, many women may be willing to discuss with me but it always ends up in a step down with a “I don’t know much about politics.” At first my reaction is generally, “that’s fine, everyone has their different interests” and I move on, but over time I have realized that American women I talk to are all too willing to claim disinterest or not having knowledge rather than taking a stand. And while I still think it is important to allow for room when it comes to our interests and act with humility when we discuss these more sensitive topics, it is also important for us to follow through as citizens and be willing to participate in what is happening in our country.

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) conducted a study on gender differences when it comes to political knowledge in ten different countries. In the US, women scored on average 30% lower than men who took the test [2]. Dr. Valerie Hudson did a small experiment in her Intro to International Relations classes while she taught at BYU, where students are predominantly Latter-Day Saints. She wanted to test the “international awareness” of her students before the class began and found that the female students generally scored lower than their male counterparts [1]. She mentions that this may be due to the fact that men are obligated to serve religious missions (many of which are international) and therefore men have more experience in international arenas than women [1]. But the reasons for women’s lack of knowledge (therefore coming from the lack of interest) in politics are much more steeped in our socialization.

There are several explanations for why women are less interested in politics than they could (or should) be. One of these reasons is unfortunately cyclical. Politics and governments are typically fields that have historically excluded women, sometimes violently so (take a look at the history of women trying to obtain their right to vote). Because of this, politics is seen as a “man’s” thing, and the fact that even though we have the right to vote, women are still hugely underrepresented in government adds to the idea that politics are made by men for men (rather than humankind). Because mostly men have historically participated in politics, women are trained, whether through spoken or unspoken rules to think that politics simply is not interesting or doesn’t really involve them. And so, the disinterest in politics means there are less women running for offices that are already so difficult for women to be voted into. So it repeats: the lack of women in government contributes to women’s general disinterest in politics.

Another reason for this is much deeper and pervasive and is evident in various areas of women’s lives. Historical socialization is something that is difficult to escape, particularly the cultural tradition to keep women quiet and maintain their low self-confidence. Much of advertising is built on making women feel bad about their bodies so they buy whatever products so they can look perfect. Girls are less willing to speak up in class for fear of being wrong or seeming arrogant. Women are less likely to ask for raises or take credit for their suggestions at work for fear of seeming bossy or forward. This is everywhere and it bleeds into our political lives. To be political and have political beliefs is to have strong opinions on what we think is right and wrong, what policies will achieve what we want, who is going to get us to where we want to go. It is wanting things, asking for them, and believing you have the right and responsibility to ask for them. These are all things that our society pressures women to stay away from, therefore holding back our ability to participate in our democratic system and achieve the things we feel are right. Of course, we have plenty of women who do speak up and out and are very willing to hold strong opinions, but they don’t represent the majority of women who are afraid to be wrong on big ideas.

Research and hundreds of conversations are necessary. Many women are aware of the issues that women and minorities face and are sympathetic to them, but we are still afraid to speak out as authorities on what we feel is best for us. Instead we often default to allow individuals who cannot understand what we experience make decisions that affect us. We have a responsibility to respond to the social and political climates of our day and form an educated opinion about it. We also need to fight against the social habits and ideas that inhibit our ability and willingness to engage in our own country’s status. It is difficult, but it needs to be done and we can do it.

-by RNP

[1] Hancock, Channing and Valerie M. Hudson. “The Effects of 9-11 and Gender on the International Awareness of Latter-day Saint College Students.” Square Two. 5.1 (2012). Web. 13 Nov 2015

http://squaretwo.org/Sq2ArticleHudsonHancockGeography.html

[2] Pollak, Sorcha. “Women Know Less about Politics than Men Worldwide.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited., 11 July 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2015.

http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jul/11/women-know-less-politics-than-men-worldwide

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2 thoughts on “American Women’s Interest in Politics — by RNP

  1. Good Reason says:

    “To be political and have political beliefs is to have strong opinions on what we think is right and wrong, what policies will achieve what we want, who is going to get us to where we want to go. It is wanting things, asking for them, and believing you have the right and responsibility to ask for them. These are all things that our society pressures women to stay away from . . . ”

    Very insightful! I wonder how we can change this?

  2. womanstats says:

    This is fascinating! I wonder if we reframed political discussions if that would help women be more involved. So instead of talking about presidential platforms per se, we talked about it in terms of the social, educational, and financial futures of their children. But maybe that’s just playing into classic stereotypes of women.

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