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Where Are All of the Women Politicians?

Where Are All of the Women Politicians?

Photo by Speaker Pelosi, Creative Commons

GOOD | Andrew Belonsky

June 15, 2010

When asked what female candidates can anticipate on the trail, Vilarde says, “Be prepared for your political party to not be as excited about you as they are about even a less qualified man.” Sanbonmatsu from CAWP contends that state parties “haven’t necessarily thought of women as candidates, although it varies from state-to-state.”

She and her peers report that more female than male state lawmakers—15% over 8% in state Senates, and 24% over 15% in the Houses—claim they got into politics after being asked by a party official, rather than to fulfill of a life-long dream. Public office is not just a job. It’s a vehicle—a means to an end.

“Women run for office to make a change, to impact legislation. They run for an issue or cause,” says Candy Straight, founder of the WISH List. Lisa Witter from the progressive consulting group Fenton Communications, agrees: “For women, politics is not a power platform. Women come to get the things done.” This may help explain female politician’s legislative styles.

Various studies indicate that women are more effective and efficient lawmakers than men. Stanford and Chicago University researchers jointly found that women introduce and pass more bills and send more money to their constituents. Female politicians also appear to introduce more community-oriented bills, like Representative Carolyn McCarthy’s ongoing mission to end corporal punishment once and for all.

There are a variety of hypotheses to explain these trends. “Women have more hands-on experience from everyday living,” says Sue Lynch, executive director of the National Federation of Republican Women. “That allows us to speak from the heart in a way that I don’t see in men.”

Vilarde, meanwhile, says that women keep three things in mind when approaching a problem: product, process, and priorities, the latter of which are “honed by different life experience than men.” Vilarde cites “family issues” and “domestic violence” as two types of legislation female lawmakers frequently undertake. Despite people’s divergent views, most agree that women tend to be more bipartisan and open to civil discussion than their male counterparts.

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