Saturday, March 03, 2007

Women lag behind in state politics

In an AP story by Julie Carr Smyth, the dwindling numbers of women in state legislatures across the nation are examined and various reasons given for the decline:

Fewer than a quarter of state lawmakers across America are female, and the share has changed little in about a decade. Despite a slight gain in the overall percentage this year - to 23.5 percent, or 1,734 of 7,382 seats - the numbers are slipping in many legislatures.

Women lost ground in 20 of 50 Statehouses following the November election. This year, 17.4 percent of the Ohio Legislature is female, down from 18.4 percent in 2006. That's 23 of 132 lawmakers, down from 24 the year before.

According to the article, in 1971 the percentage of women in state offices was a paltry 4.5%. I guess we should be jumping up and down for joy that we've almost managed to get close to 25% in 30 some years.

Reasons for the current decline are that given:

1. Women are consensus builders and are not attracted to the current political style of swift boating.

2. Lingering stereotypes, especially in the south, of women as the ones who stay at home dissuade women from seeking office.

3. The burden of raising a family while participating in politics is something that men can hand off to their wives very easily -- not so for women. Hence men can get a great head start in their political careers while women often don't begin running for office until after their children are out of the home.

Not examined in the article was the difficulty in raising money to run for office. Could Hillary raise as much as she has if she hadn't been married to Bill? Emily's List has been pivotal in providing support for women candidates since the 80s.

Like Hillary Clinton, Emily's List is often vilified in the press. Uppity women still are not accepted, let alone liked in this society. It would seem that the great unspoken reason for the continuing marginalization of women in politics is still a deeply rooted sexism that doesn't trust ideas like consensus, negotiation and collaboration.

Certainly government could use a huge dose of consensus-building instead of the macho posturing and the drawing of lines in the sand and daring the opponent to cross them.

Smyth closes her article by referencing the rise of Nancy Pelosi, who is modeling effective leadership skills that hopefully will inspire the younger generations of women to get out there and campaign for office.

I'd like to see more Dead-Enders get involved and running for office. A Dead-Ender is what I call myself -- a woman or man who chooses not to reproduce and pass along our genetic material. We need a lot more Dead-Enders on this planet to have any kind of effect on stabilizing global population. Dead-Enders have more time to give to social and political movements -- though how many atheist Dead-Enders could make a run for office is another issue entirely.

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