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Why do women run from office?

Taylor Cole
Arts & Culture Editor

In less than a month, Americans will run to their nearest voting booth to vote for our next President of the United States, a pretty normal occurrence that happens every four years. What makes this election so different from previous elections? Hillary Clinton is the democratic nominee. Let’s clarify a little bit. A woman is in the running for president.

She’s gone the farthest any other woman has in any presidential election in the United States by becoming the democratic nominee. While this is most certainly an accomplishment, why did it take so long to happen? Why are women rarely seen as elected political officials? Dr. Danny Hayes asks, “Why do women run from office?”

On October 6, Millersville University had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Danny Hayes, a political science professor at George Washington University, speak on why women run from office and how that can change during the 2016 Harriet Kenderdine Keynote Lecture. Harriet Kenderdine was political figure in Lancaster county. She was known for her work with The League of Women Voters of Lancaster County, a group that creates lecture series related to political affairs.

Following Dr. Hayes speech, a panel of distinguished individuals had the chance to comment. Among the panel was Marie Cusick, a reporter on WITF, Barbara Wilson, a city council official, Fran Rodriguez, the first Latina president of Lancaster County’s League of Women Voters, Lois Herr, a political activist with a distinguished political background, and Madison Poutz, a student at George Washington University and an intern at the Democratic National Committee.

Dr. Hayes began his speech with showing the audience just how underrepresented women are in the United States government. Currently, when compared to how many women are in office, the United States rank 95th against other countries. Countries like Cuba, Sudan, and Iraq have more women in office than the United States.

Why might this be? One theory might be that the most difficult people to beat when running for office are men; therefore, why try? Also, the stereotype is that women are less likely to have “pipeline” careers unlike men who are often lawyers, doctors, and professors. This makes them less likely to have the opportunity to become a political official.

The theory that most people believe is the reason women run from office is that women face too much bias and discrimination. They’re less likely to be seen as strong and qualified.

“It’s not an environment women want to be a part of,” commented Cusick. Believe it or not, this actually isn’t the case. While 47% of Americans think women face bias from voters, they actually don’t. In fact, almost 100% of Americans say they’d vote for a woman that is qualified to do the job. Now, this hasn’t always been the case, but times have definitely changed.

Female candidates aren’t seen as novelties anymore. People are used to seeing women in higher, more qualified positions. Rather than focusing on gender, voters focus their attention on with what party the candidate is affiliated. Dr. Hayes and his co-author Dr. Jennifer Lawless did a study where they looked at over 800 United States House races in 2010 and 2014. 300 of the candidates in these races were women.

Dr. Hayes and Dr. Lawless analyzed over 10,000 news stories about the candidates and looked for mentions of gender and appearance. They found that the news stories rarely mentioned a candidate’s gender or appearance, only if the appearance was absolutely absurd for the occasion. News stories weren’t more likely to talk about women in feminine terms.

Women were just as likely to get attention to their issues and campaigns as men. If this is the case, why aren’t there more women in office? Dr. Hayes says it is the “gender gap in political ambition”. What he means by this is that women feel like they’re less qualified to run for office than men. They’re less likely to be recruited or encouraged to run for office by activists and party leaders. Poutz stated that her female colleagues always look around for validation and acceptance as leaders while her male colleagues possess tremendous amounts of self-confidence.

“[I had to] stop asking: is my voice worth hearing?” Poutz stated.

How can Americans change this gender gap? First, it’s important to denounce episodes of sexism. All political parties should continue encouraging and recruiting women to run for office. Finally, it’s important to start early. Make it known to little girls that they are qualified and able to run for office if they set their mind to it. As a closing remark, Dr. Hayes stated, “[We must make it clear] that politics isn’t just a boy’s club.”