Politics and Gender: Women in the Political World

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

This year, 2016, is an important year for women in politics in the United States. Hillary Clinton has a serious chance at becoming the Democratic Presidential Nominee. This is not the first year Clinton is running, she ran before in 2008 against now President Barack Obama, nor is it the first time that a woman has vied for the presidency, Carly Fiorina was also an option for the Republican Party’s nomination this year but has since dropped out of the race. The Green Party has also had a handful of women presidential candidates. The presidency, however, is not the only office in which women have received the short end of the stick, in the Senate, House of Representatives, and the Supreme Court, women have never been proportionally represented. The realm of American politics has been dominated by males since the founding fathers in 1776. This lack of participation may likely stem from a society which implicitly tells women that they can’t participate or that they are not good enough to participate in politics on the national level.

  One reason why American society may implicitly tell women that they can’t participate in politics is that they are simply just not as knowledgeable about political affairs as men are. This could explain why fewer female candidates run for national offices. However, a study by Hilde Coffè (2013) provides evidence that women are just as knowledgeable about politics as men but this knowledge is more related to local politics than to national or international politics. The knowledge and interest in politics is certainly within the female population but may be stifled before bellowing up into national affairs.

There is also evidence provided by Kathleen Dolan (2011) that suggests women are knowledgeable about national politics when the politicians themselves are women. Women were more likely to correctly identify the percentage of women in Congress and correctly identify a woman senator. These political leaders, like Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, may be lighthouses of gender representation for women across America and be held up as role models for young women aspiring to enter the political sphere of Washington D.C. Another suggestion that Dolan’s research appears to make is women are less likely to guess or may feel threatened while participating in a survey on political knowledge because of implicit gendered stereotypes about women’s knowledge of politics. Apparently, women are also less likely than men to guess at a question on a survey when also provided with an “I don’t know” option citing research done by Mondark and Anderson (2004). This could result in statistics that are not descriptive of the reality of women’s knowledge. When implementing the study, the people surveyed were in their home and were not given the option to say “I don’t know” (Dolan, 2011). Political efficacy, the idea that one knows or is successful with politics, can explain why women may not enter national politics. If women have been told through these studies that do not accurately describe women’s capabilities then they may feel as if they themselves do not actually know as much as they think they know. This lack of confidence is detrimental in the same way that self-efficacy is important to overall happiness within a person.

In the study done by Coffè (2013), women are more interested in politics on the local level because the issues surrounding local politics directly affect women’s home life such as education, utilities, and public transport. Women have been influenced by our society’s cultural practices since the beginning of society itself to be the home-maker. Men are the ones to go out and hunt and provide while the women were to stay at home to cook, clean, and care for the family. This idea has changed just recently and essentially only in first world society. Where the practice has changed, the social ideas and implications have not. Women feel they can participate more in the local political procedures because it affects their home life. Once again, this idea is not told explicitly to women in politics but the evidence provides the proof. Surveys in 1990 and a study by Verba et al. (1997) show that women are much more likely than men to be able to name local leaders of school systems and school politics. This gender gap shows that while men may be more versed in national politics, women do operate within local political fields. Perhaps this could be a game of “catch up” where women have to work through the lower rings of politics before bursting through on the national level in a meaningful way. History repeats itself and so far we have seen women stuck behind the men in the home, in the work place, in the polls, and now on the election ballot itself.

While there has been an increase of the number of women politicians, there has been research done to show the different types of speech patterns employed by both male and female politicians. The feminine speech pattern involved speaking in a manner that used inductive reasoning, addressing the audience as peers, and relying on personal experience (Campbell and Keremidchieva, 2006). This speech pattern is not only used by female politicians but also by men as well. Hillary Clinton has used this speech pattern in her recent performances at the Democratic debates when referring to her time as a senator in New York and on 9/11. Interestingly, Bernie Sanders, another Democratic presidential nominee, has employed this speech pattern as well with his use of the pronoun “we” and his history fighting for civil rights in the 1960s for African-Americans. The change from the masculine pattern to a female pattern of speech by other presidential nominees points to the feminine pattern being more influential and, by adopting it, male politicians are implicitly saying that the female does not use this tool to the best of its abilities so a man must take it over.

As the political atmosphere of the United States changes, undoubtedly more and more women will enter the boxing ring of Washington D.C. and fight the patriarchy for equal representation. Despite what our society has implicitly told women since the beginning of time, that they are not good enough to lead, the emergence of political figure heads in D.C. has proved a powerful force to reckon with. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Condoleezza Rice, among others, have taken this country closer to achieving a true representation of the American population within our government. I do not doubt that before long the 16% female representation within Congress will rise to reflect the true demographics of the American populace. Women are just as knowledgeable about politics as men, have the same political interests as shown in their operations in local politics, and have a powerful method of persuasion in their speech patterns. Society will come to recognize soon that the female gender is just as powerful, influential, and capable in the Oval Office as men are.

Works Cited

Campbell, Karlyn, and Zornitsa Keremidchieva. "Gender and Public Address." The SAGE Handbook of Gender and Communication. 2006. SAGE Publications. 16 Mar. 2011. <http://www.sage-ereference.com/hdbk_gendercomm/Article_n10.html>.

Dolan, K. (2011). Do women and men know different things? Measuring gender differences in political knowledge. The Journal Of Politics73(1), 97-107. doi:10.1017/S0022381610000897

Verba, Sidney, Nancy Burns, and Kay Schlozman. 1997. ‘‘Knowing and Caring about Politics: Gender and Political Engagement. Journal of Politics 59 (4): 1051–72.

Coffé, H. (2013). Women Stay Local, Men Go National and Global? Gender Differences in Political Interest. Sex Roles, 69(5-6), 323-338. Retrieved March 10, 2016.