How Gender Norms Affect Women Running for Office

We live in an era where more women are entering the workforce, yet there are still inequitable ratios of women to men in some arenas. The United States government, for example, has been male dominated since its establishment over 230 years ago. Of course, women have always participated in government and politics, but not at the same rates as men, and especially not until recently. From 1789 when the Constitution was signed – by only men – until now, women seem to be the population majority who are the consistent minority in government and politics. Gendered expectations and the male domination of politics are both indicators that gender norms affect the number of women running for office.

According to the European Institute for Gender Equality, gender norms are defined as “standards and expectations to which women and men generally conform, within a range that defines a particular society, culture and community at that point in time”.[1] Gender norms often ascribed to women are concerned with caretaking and include communal characteristics such as sensitivity and nurturing – which explains the high rates of women in the nursing and education fields. Norms ascribed more strongly to men show assertiveness and are concerned with ambition, dominance, power, and leadership. These prescribed norms make running for office difficult for women because they are exposing themselves to scrutiny, criticism, and harassment that male candidates may not experience. Gender norms are not true reflections of the attributes or abilities of women. Instead, they are sociocultural ideologies that discourage women from running for office due to feelings of inadequacy, discomfort, and societal pressures to conform to their prescribed place. Currently, women account for 23.7% of Congress – the highest representation of women in our history. However, from 1917 until 1993, women did not account for even 10% of Congress. This represents a long history of gender norms hindering women from running for office.[2]

senate_represent117th.png

Political competition, as in the U.S. “winner-take-all” system and heavy campaigning combined with gender norms make women feel more reluctant to run for office.[3]Women seem to be more averse to highly competitive environments than men, who have historically been pushed to compete for leadership positions, while women have traditionally been discouraged from being competitive. Since competitiveness is so deeply embedded in the U.S. political campaigning system, women have to overcome years of socialization to even consider entering the race. This is a finding reported by many studies, including Preece and Stoddard’s lab experiment in 2015. The experiment consisted of politically active men and women showing interest in leadership roles based on questions that controlled for a competitive view to get the role, and a non-competitive view. It was shown that women tended to dislike the competitiveness of said role and backed away from it, while men’s participation was not changed.The researchers ultimately found that “…women are half as likely as men to choose to compete, even when their performance is equal.”[4]Globally, the U.S. ranks 77thin the representation of women in government, but it’s not because people aren’t voting for women. While there has been some debate about this topic, it actually seems like that, in recent years, women are about as likely to get elected as men are.[5]This signals that gender norms are more at play in the campaigning process than the ballot box, meaning that women who do run actually stand a chance of winning – if we can get them to run in the first place.

The male domination of politics also plays into who runs for office and why. Most people don’t suddenly decide to run for office; they are usually encouraged and trained for some time, then given they resources they need to win. Incumbents have been found to recruit more men to run for office than women, and they often are offered more support.[6]When members of Congress campaign for other politicians running for office, those politicians are usually men. This is significant because elections are mostly won with help and support from electoral gatekeepers. In a momentous finding from Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox, “…politically well-connected women from both major political parties are less likely than similarly situated men to be recruited to run for public office by all types of political actors. They are less likely than men to be recruited intensely. And they are less likely than men to be recruited by multiple sources.”[7]This gap in political recruitment and support puts women at a disadvantage compared to men. Without this support, women are falling behind in the political process and not perceived to be as qualified as men, even if they are. This precludes women’s rightful, equitable inclusion in politics and diminishes the qualifications that women have to be members of congress. This cycle of political gatekeepers helping male candidates more than female candidates has perpetuated gender norms and gender gaps in politics.

 

However, there is hope for girls and women yet. A record number of women have run for office in the last decade, and many have excelled. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is one of many examples of women who have attained leadership positions in political office and has greatly contributed to her party’s cause. Women are winning at the local level, too. Women hold 29.3% of statewide offices and 22.0% of municipal offices with populations over 30,000.[8]Out of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., 27 have female mayors.[9]There are also organizations, such as “Ignite” seeking to prepare girls and women in all levels of education to become interested and active in politics.[10]“Get Her Elected” is another organization that helps prepare women with the adequate skills and training needed to run for office.[11]

 

More women in politics is beneficial to everyone. It helps advance gender equality and provides for better and more understanding representation for women, who make up slightly over half of the United States population. Women in leadership positions are more likely to be collaborative and more willing to cooperate with the opposing party to better ensure quick response to constituents.

 

-KC

 

[1]“Gender Norms.” European Institute for Gender Equality. https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1194 (December 8, 2019).

https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1194

[2]https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwixlempnKXmAhVLsZ4KHSGNB_QQjB16BAgBEAM&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.catalyst.org%2Fresearch%2Fwomen-in-government%2F&psig=AOvVaw2feAPa8smhZE5hZW08_qjo&ust=1575865897083210

[3]Preece, Jessica, and Olga Stoddard. 2015. “Why Women Don’t Run: Experimental Evidence on Gender Differences in Political Competition Aversion.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization117: 296–308. doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2015.04.019.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=2ahUKEwiUjISWlaXmAhXS7Z4KHTzWA3QQFjADegQIARAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fbrightspotcdn.byu.edu%2F25%2F3d%2Fec2e0daf41919de5d5d38c0dd1c0%2Fjebo-why-women-dont-run.pdf&usg=AOvVaw3aIBt5eyqu-MpCpNz89zGU

 

[4]Preece, Jessica, and Olga Stoddard. 2015. “Why Women Don’t Run: Experimental Evidence on Gender Differences in Political Competition Aversion.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization117: 296–308. doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2015.04.019.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&ved=2ahUKEwiUjISWlaXmAhXS7Z4KHTzWA3QQFjADegQIARAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fbrightspotcdn.byu.edu%2F25%2F3d%2Fec2e0daf41919de5d5d38c0dd1c0%2Fjebo-why-women-dont-run.pdf&usg=AOvVaw3aIBt5eyqu-MpCpNz89zGU

 

[5]Kanthak, Kristin, and Jonathan Woon. 2014. “Women Dont Run? Election Aversion and Candidate Entry.” American Journal of Political Science59(3): 595–612. doi: 10.1111/ajps.12158.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=2ahUKEwjm84_br6rmAhUGDKwKHQf4DwEQFjAAegQIARAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fonlinelibrary.wiley.com%2Fdoi%2Fabs%2F10.1111%2Fajps.12158&usg=AOvVaw3ZQ_ahecIUdz1VBu6rEjaF

[6]Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard Logan. Fox. 2008. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Dont Run for Office. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwipy_PDmaXmAhXEs54KHSM-BbUQFjABegQIBhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fbooks.google.com%2Fbooks%2Fabout%2FIt_Takes_a_Candidate.html%3Fid%3DvfUlu1Kgp5wC&usg=AOvVaw0Snz-ppfVF6TixyRRFjjUc

[7]Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard Logan. Fox. 2008. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Dont Run for Office. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=2ahUKEwipy_PDmaXmAhXEs54KHSM-BbUQFjABegQIBhAB&url=https%3A%2F%2Fbooks.google.com%2Fbooks%2Fabout%2FIt_Takes_a_Candidate.html%3Fid%3DvfUlu1Kgp5wC&usg=AOvVaw0Snz-ppfVF6TixyRRFjjUc

[8]“Women in Elective Office 2019.” 2019. CAWP. https://cawp.rutgers.edu/women-elective-office-2019 (December 10, 2019).

https://cawp.rutgers.edu/women-elective-office-2019

 

[9]“Women in Elective Office 2019.” 2019. CAWP. https://cawp.rutgers.edu/women-elective-office-2019 (December 10, 2019).

https://cawp.rutgers.edu/women-elective-office-2019

[10]Epstein, Rachel. 2018. “The Women Helping Take Back America.” Marie Claire. https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a23678900/women-political-organizations-run-for-office/ (December 10, 2019).

https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a23678900/women-political-organizations-run-for-office/

 

[11]Epstein, Rachel. 2018. “The Women Helping Take Back America.” Marie Claire. https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a23678900/women-political-organizations-run-for-office/ (December 10, 2019).

https://www.marieclaire.com/politics/a23678900/women-political-organizations-run-for-office/

 

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