Opinion: It’s About Time For Female Representation in Politics

4 mins read

How valuable is considering gender in the presidential election? This topic feels particularly timely after Nikki Haley’s exit from the Republican primary following Super Tuesday. Haley failed to garner enough support against Donald Trump, a candidate who is a defendant in multiple court cases, faced impeachment, and lost the popular vote twice. Although Haley’s campaign also had numerous flaws, now more than ever, voters need to champion female leaders, acknowledge the political and societal barriers they face, and try to diversify representation. 

Representation in politics leads girls to become more politically engaged and shows women how to defy gendered career and character stereotypes. Additionally, research by Women Political Leaders shows, “Increased representation of women typically results in more laws that ensure equality and greater participation of women in the workforce.” In the case where there are two similarly qualified candidates of different genders, it is reasonable for voters to factor in gender when making their decision. Electing more women leaders will help advance causes that open up more opportunities and prioritize peace in foreign policy.

In the case where there are two similarly qualified candidates of different genders, it is reasonable for voters to factor in gender when making their decision. Electing more women leaders will help advance causes that open up more opportunities and prioritize peace in foreign policy.

Over the past twenty years, Brazil, Germany, and New Zealand have been led by women who have proven effective at serving as positive role models and supporting policies that help women. Jacinda Arderm of New Zealand made strides in parental leave policy, successfully navigated the pandemic, and tackled gun control, earning herself a reputation for an empathetic leadership style. Germany’s Angela Merkel was vocal about establishing quotas for women serving on corporate boards, prioritizing environmental issues, and was known for her consensus-building approach to leadership. Dilma Rousseff of Brazil focused on social programs, aiming to reduce poverty and inequality. Despite their obvious successes, these leaders have had inconsistent, waning approval ratings, and their public perception is inextricably linked to their gender.

It’s difficult to prove the correlation and causation between female leaders and positive outcomes, partly because there have not been enough female leaders to extrapolate evidence. The only way to demonstrate the value of female leadership is to ensure that, when women make political progress, their accomplishments are touted. Attributing successful outcomes or pointing to data regarding female leadership is not meant to overlook a country’s other circumstances, nor is it meant to oversimplify the impact of female leadership. Characterizing some leadership skills or political priorities as more typically “feminine” would undermine their merits. Considering gender in politics does not mean unconditional support to any leader just because they’re female, like Marjorie Taylor Greene who is, without question, undeserving of our support given how corrupt she is. Still, electing officials from a country’s entire talent pool can improve the representation of the whole population.

Last fall, a UN study found that about 70% of respondents believe that countries led by women tend to be better managed, according to a survey involving more than 17,000 people from 36 countries. Julie Ballington, a policy adviser for U.N. Women, said, “Women are more likely than men to place issues such as healthcare, childcare, and education on the political agenda.” Countries with more women in government bring a “different style to politics and different policy focuses than [governments] with very few women in them.”

When asked whether gender would be a factor in their future vote, 28 out of 50 M-A students said gender would be a crucial part of their thought process when they cast their votes, while 20 said it would not, and two chose not to answer. The students did not specify whether they would favor a female candidate given the need for more representation or whether they were skeptical about female leadership given the lack of precedent. I can only hope it’s the former. 

Kamala Harris made history in 2021 by becoming the first female Vice President of the United States. Yet her approval rating is lower than former Vice President Mike Pence as well as the three previous vice presidents. According to a 2020 FiveThirtyEight article, “Political science research has established that women who run for elected office have to navigate a thicket of stereotypes and double standards that their male counterparts are unlikely to experience.” It continued, “Voters are much less forgiving than they are of their male counterparts.” When weighing gender, it is imperative to consider pre-existing gender bias and how it affects all genders of candidates. When male politicians pander to their voters with promising rhetoric but don’t deliver on their promises with tangible change, they are often more easily forgiven.

Additionally, female politicians are often unjustly labeled in sexist ways, as traits praised in male politicians, like confidence, intelligence, and ambition, make female politicians “unlikable” or “power hungry.” Despite positive stereotypes labeling women as more empathetic and passionate about ‘women’s issues’ such as childcare and education, if women are forced to toe the line and avoid being perceived as strong and competent, they will not be taken seriously.

Many women who have run for higher office have faced the “woman problem,” most recently being Haley. News coverage deemed her “harder to ignore among the contenders” after the first primary debate. However, the sexist public perception of Haley was a key factor in her ultimate demise: 38% of Trump supporters believe “women seek to gain power by getting control over men.”

Hillary Clinton was held to a higher standard than her male counterparts during her 2008 and 2016 runs for the White House. While it’s difficult to know whether her gender was a liability or an advantage given how close she came in her second run, biases have continued to challenge the political advancement of women in our country. Even polling is a difficult tool because when gauging the viability of a female candidate, unconscious biases factor in, and voters are often hesitant to back a female candidate because they are skeptical about the candidate’s electability, or because they recognize women are more easily undermined by inevitable political drama.

There’s no question that countries led by women have more opportunities for women to emerge as strong leaders and role models. They also allow us to more closely consider whether gender should or should not factor into our voting decisions. On the one hand, there is a strong case for leadership diversity, including gender, because it allows for more varied perspectives regarding legislation and representation that is meaningful to any population. On the other hand, voters should value a leader’s competence and policy more heavily. Ultimately, gender should be considered in the voting process along with various factors, including policies, experience, and leadership qualities, in selecting their representatives.

Given the division in our country today, the qualities often demonstrated by female leaders are just what we need. As historic numbers of women run and serve in high positions like Congress, I hope that it’s just a matter of determination and time before we see a female president.

Rose is a sophomore at M-A and this is her first year in journalism. She enjoys writing about pop culture and issues affecting the M-A community. In her free time, Rose enjoys exercising, going to concerts, and spending time with friends and family.

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