Dana Golstein interviewed the new president of Emily's List, the group that raises money for progressive female candidates, about the dearth of women in political office. While Stephanie Schriock says that women aren't obligated to vote for women who run for office, she points out the stark numbers showing just how important it is to vote for women, who make up only 17 percent of Congress.
While giving money to selected candidates early can help women overcome daunting fundraising barriers, there are still many reasons women aren't highly represented in politics. In a 2008 paper, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox wrote that there's a gender ambition gap in electoral politics:
We link this persistent gender gap in political ambition to several factors. Women are less likely than men to be willing to endure the rigors of a political campaign. They are less likely than men to be recruited to run for office. They are less likely than men to have the freedom to reconcile work and family obligations with a political career. They are less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office. And they are less likely than men to perceive a fair political environment.
I would say the first two factors could probably be explained by the last one. If you're overloaded with familial obligations, you're much less likely to meet the professionals and fundraisers who could recruit you as a candidate, and also much less likely to be able to balance a rigorous campaign. We need to make sure women can afford child care and are paid fairly by employers, but cultural changes in the way we think about family need to follow those structural changes as well. More women in office can help that, both by expanding the notion that women belong in the political sphere, and by enabling them to make the kinds of laws that can help other women. Since each seems to require the other, it's just unclear how to get there from here.
-- Monica Potts