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Editorial: Political Gender Gap Closing Too Slow

This story was written by Editorial Board, Central Florida Future

Women have infiltrated the political atmosphere. The 21st century is the first to witness a female Secretary of State, a female Speaker of the House and a female Democratic presidential nominee - Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton.

Extensive research performed by Jennifer Lawless, an assistant professor at Brown University, and Richard Fox, an associate professor at Loyola Marymount University, examines the "gender gap in political ambition."

This research is based on the Citizen Political Ambition Panel Study, which is a series of mail surveys and interviews with men and women within the arena of potential political candidates. The goal is to discern how women and men decide whether to run for public office.

The national sample used was derived from the four professions that most commonly generate political candidates including law, business, education and politics. Each sample held equal professional credentials with no demographic or geographic differences. The initial survey was conducted in 2001, with 1,969 male respondents and 1,796 women respondents. Seven years later, original respondents were resurveyed with 1,110 males and 926 females, for a total of 2,036 respondents, allowing for Lawless and Fox to give insight into this lack of gender parity.

According to the study, 24.1 percent of women are statewide elected officials, 23.5 percent are state legislators, 18 percent are state governors, 16.3 percent are members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 16 percent are U.S. Senators and 10 percent are mayors of the 100 largest cities. Yet, men reside in the governor's mansion in 41 of the 50 states and men run City Hall in 90 of the 100 largest cities across the country.

However, the research conducted by Lawless and Fox asserts that these comparisons are not meant to emphasize discrimination toward women, but rather to demonstrate the "complete absence of overt gender bias."

To strengthen their argument, a table representing worldwide rankings of women in the national legislature shows the U.S. positioned at No. 84 with 16.3 percent of women. Rwanda is number one with 48.8 percent of women.

Perhaps what is most stifling is seeing the U.S., a developed and industrialized country, placed beneath oppressive countries such as Cuba and Uganda, which both have percentages well above the international average of 17.5 percent.

In an effort to explain the alleged gender gap in political ambition, the study offers five explanations for the uneven interest between males and females in political office, and they are as follows: Attitudes about campaigning, levels of encouragement and recruitment to become a candidate, traditional family dynamics, self-perceptions of electoral viability and perceptions of the political environment.

Based on these premises, respondents were given a series of campaign activities and then asked to rate whether they were "so negative, it would deter me from running for office." The largest gap between males and females existed in the campaign activity of potentially having to engage in negative campaigns, with 45 percent of females expressing negativity and only 30 percent of males.

The data represented here may not serve as the best indicator of political ambition, but rather it may serve as a measurement of political malleability.

To delve further into the life of the respondent, family arrangement and distribution of household and child care responsibilities were surveyed. In almost every aspect of household and child care responsibilities, women were in the majority: 60 percent were responsible for the majority of child care, while only 4 percent of men were and 44 percent were respnsible for the majority of household tasks, while only 7 percent of men were. The research goes on to conclude, "For many women in the pool of eligible candidates, entering the electoral arena would simply be a third job, which is quite unappealing since they already have two."

Gender politics still plays an enormous role in the political atmosphere and serves as an insurmountable barrier for women of the 21st century. Yet, despite electoral viability, domesticity is always called in to question to serve as the basis of comparison between potential male and female candidates.

The research attributes the gender gap in political ambition to "women's greater aversion to campaigning, lower levels of political recruitment and traditional family arrangements and responsibilities."

As a solution, the authors propose recruiting early and recruiting often, developing organizations dedicated to advocating child care and elder assistance programs and policies, spreading the word about female electoral success, and working to dismiss female anxiety and negative perspectives about the mechanics of a campaign.

As an alternative, we believe that women are capable of motivating themselves to compete in the political arena without the aid of organizations or recruitment. It is not that women share a lack of political ambition or anxiety towards politics; Rice, Pelosi and Clinton are evidence of that. They just have yet to find their niche in the political arena where tradition trumps reality.