In recent years more women have made the choice to run for public office. What may be surprising to many is that there is still a substantial gender gap in political ambition. A recent study, “Men Rule: The Continued Under Representation of Women in U.S. Politics” virtually confirms that women are gravely under represented in politics.
In spite of the evidence that when women run for office, they perform just as well as their male counterparts. In spite of the women who have held high profile public offices like Speaker of the House, in spite of women who have run for president and vice president, the study suggest that the gender gap in political ambition is virtually the same as it was a decade ago.
The evidence also supports the conclusion that there is no major difference in fundraising receipts, vote totals, or electoral success between women and men. So why the gap? Professors Jennifer L. Lawless and Richard L. Fox have identified some interesting factors for the unlikely differences.
1. Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
2. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.
3. Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
4. Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confidant, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
5. Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
6. Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office – from anyone.
7. Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.
Yesterday, Gabrielle Giffords (D., Ariz.) cast her final vote in Congress and in an emotional moment in the House chamber, she resigned from office to hopefully continue her recovery from a shooting from over a year ago. The perception is that there are more women in public office but the reality is much different. Pundits predict that this year will see an increase in women running for office but the increase will be minimal at best.
Women led the Women’s movement and it just may be up to women to find solutions for this leadership gap. Maybe through public education, recruitment efforts and groups like EMILY’s List, Joint Action Committee for Political Affairs, League of Women Voters, National Organization for Women, Political Institute for Women, Public Leadership Education Network, Susan B. Anthony List and The White House Project the promise of equality for the next decade of women in public office may very well be realized through other women.