There are more women in political office than ever, but the U.S. is not on the forefront of this change. In 2013, the U.S. Congress was 18% female which, internationally, places us in the middle of the pack.
The Democrats can boast better numbers than the Republicans, but it wasn’t always this way. At the Scholars Strategy Network, sociologist Danielle Thomsen observes that the Democratic party (green and blue) has increased female representation much quicker than the Republicans (red and purple), but only since the ’80s or so.
Thomsen argues that part of the reason for this difference has to do with increasing polarization in politics. Both the Democratic and Republican parties have become more ideologically extreme, but this has hurt Republican recruitment of women more than Democratic ones. This is because Republican women tend to be more moderate, on average, than Republican men. Since there is less room for moderation in the party, the selection process favors more conservative politicians. Among that group, there are very few women.
This hasn’t hurt the Democrats as much, since Democratic women are not more likely than Democratic men to hold moderate views. The opposite, in fact, may be true, increasing the rate at which women may be picked up and supported by the party.
In a comprehensive analysis of young men’s and women’s aspirations to public office, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox discover that part of the reason we see so few female politicians is because women just aren’t interested in running. There are lots of reasons for this. A absence of role models, a lack of encouragement from their parents, and the intimidating role that sexist attacks play in media coverage of campaigns.
But Lawless and Fox discovered another interesting correlation, one between political aspiration and sports. More men than women – 74% compared to 41% — played on a college or intramural team and, for both, playing sports was correlated with political aspirations. The figure shows that running for office had “crossed the minds: of 44% of women who played sports and 35% who hadn’t. The numbers for men were 63% and 55% respectively.
The authors suggest that the mediating factor is “an opportunity to develop… a competitive spirit.” Sports, they argue, may build or reinforce the tendency to find pleasure in competition, which may make politics more appealing.
While sports increased both men’s and women’s interest in politics, it had a greater effect for women, shrinking the gender gap in political ambition by half.
Cats and dogs are gendered in contemporary American culture, such that dogs are thought to be the proper pet for men and cats for women (especially lesbians). This, it turns out, is an old stereotype. In fact, cats were a common symbol in suffragette imagery. Cats represented the domestic sphere, and anti-suffrage postcards often used them to reference female activists. The intent was to portray suffragettes as silly, infantile, incompetent, and ill-suited to political engagement.
Cats were also used in anti-suffrage cartoons and postcards that featured the bumbling, emasculated father cruelly left behind to cover his wife’s shirked duties as she so ungracefully abandons the home for the political sphere. Oftentimes, unhappy cats were portrayed in these scenes as symbols of a threatened traditional home in need of woman’s care and attention.
While opposition to the female vote was strong, public sentiment warmed to the suffragettes as police brutality began to push women into a more favorable, if victimized, light.
As suffragettes increasingly found themselves jailed, many resisted unfair or inhumane imprisonment with hunger strikes. In response, jailers would often force-feed female prisoners with steel devices to pry open their mouths and long hoses inserted into their noses and down their throats. This caused severe damage to the women’s faces, mouths, lungs, and stomachs, sometimes causing illness and death.
Not wanting to create a group of martyrs for the suffragist cause, the British government responded by enacting the Prisoner’s Act of 1913 which temporarily freed prisoners to recuperate (or die) at home and then rearrested them when they were well. The intention was to free the government from responsibility of injury and death from force feeding prisoners.
This act became popularly known as the “Cat and Mouse Act,” as the government was seen as toying with their female prey as a cat would a mouse. Suddenly, the cat takes on a decidedly more masculine, “tom cat” persona. The cat now represented the violent realities of women’s struggle for political rights in the male public sphere.
The longevity of the stereotype of cats as feminine and domestic, along with the interesting way that the social constructions flipped, is a great example of how cultural associations are used to create meaning and facilitate or resist social change.
Ms. Wrenn is an instructor of Sociology with Colorado State University, where she is working on her PhD. She is a council member of the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section and has published extensively on the non-human animal rights movement.
I absolutely love this photograph of a collage on the wall of an activist in the rather new national movement to hold colleges and universities accountable for sexual assault. Referencing Title IX and the “bigger picture,” it documents cross-college efforts to use the amendment to ensure that sex crimes on campuses don’t interfere with women’s rights to equal access to education.
What is exciting is that this is a national movement. The many college names pinned to the board are just some of the schools that have filed, are filing, or will file Title IX complaints with the Office for Civil Rights. “Oxy” is my school.
I’ve been somewhat involved with Oxy’s role in this movement — the credit goes to Drs. Caroline Heldman and Danielle Dirks and the dozens of survivors who, as part of the coalition, have publicly and confidentially shared their stories — but I’ve had the pleasure of talking to journalists about our case. Regarding the national movement, they often ask me “Why now?”
This is a tough question to answer and, first and foremost, credit goes to the extraordinary people at the center of this fight, such as Annie Clark, Andrea Pino, Dana Bolger, and Alexandra Brodsky at Know Your IX. As Margaret Mead famously said:
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
Importantly, though, the efforts of this small group have been greatly enhanced by the internet and, specifically, social networking sites. Students (and sometimes faculty, staff, and administrators) are no longer confronting these issues alone. They are reaching out across campuses and talking with each other; they are teaching each other how to file federal complaints; they are building and sharing templates; they are sharing stories of institutional foot dragging and spin and developing effective resistance and protest strategies.
For example, Annie Clark, who filed federal complaints against the University of North Carolina, helped Profs. Dirks and Heldman at Occidental College file their complaints: “Over the past few months,” she writes:
I have spent countless hours with them on Skype and the phone in order to share information and help the[m] write their complaints. Yet, six months ago, I had never even heard of Occidental College — and many of the 37 women there who filed had not yet heard about Title IX protection against gender discrimination beyond athletics.
These coalitions are creating both activist networks and fast friends. This is a picture of students at Swarthmore (Swat) showing their love for students at Occidental (Oxy). Both campuses filed Title IX complaints on the same day:
As Prof. Dirks explains, this collaboration is a big deal:
[L]earning the stories of other survivors who are actively pushing their colleges and universities to create safe and equitable learning environments has opened the floodgates of what students now feel empowered to do.
This is all possible, of course, because the internet is still at least a somewhat democratized technology. You and I are equals on the internet, at least in principle. So we all have the opportunity to produce content. In contrast, other forms of media — TV, radio, movies, magazines, books — typically offer us only the opportunity to consume.
The activists in this movement have a platform and a megaphone, then, metaphorically speaking. The technology — and our regulation of it in ways that preserve its democratic nature — is helping enable this movement. Just as the TV made a huge difference in shifting popular opinion about the Civil Rights Movement. Accordingly, we need to remember this when corporations fight to own and control the internet and its distribution. For reasons like this one, we should be fighting back with the goal of making the internet a public utility. Democracy depends on it.
Jeb Bush told CPAC that the Republican party had an image problem.
Way too many people believe that Republicans are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker.
People have good reason to believe those things. But the “way too many” suggests that the GOP’s problem is not image or brand, it’s demography. For five years or longer, the Republican faithful have been complaining that “their” country was being taken away from them, and they were going to take it back (e.g., see my “Repo Men” post).
They were right. Their country, a country dominated by older white men, is fading in the demographic tide. The groups whose numbers in the electorate are on the rise don’t look like them. Andrew Gelman (here) recently published these graphs as an update to his 2009 Red State, Blue State. They reveal the tendency for different groups to vote more Democratic (blue) and Republican (red):
(The exit poll the data are based on sampled only in the 30 most competitive state. Texas and Georgia are large, and they have significant non-White populations. But demographic changes there are unlikely to have much effect on which party gets their electoral votes.)
Unfortunately for the GOP, the non-White proportion of the electorate will continue to grow. The female proportion may also increase, especially as education levels of women rise (more educated people are more likely to vote than are the less educated).
The key factor is party loyalty. And, at least in presidential elections, people do remain loyal. I think I once read, “If you can get them for two consecutive elections, you’ve got them for life.” Or words to that effect. If that’s true, the age patterns of the last two elections should be what the Republicans are worrying about.
Trying to make themselves more attractive to younger people will not be easy. Oldsmobile tried it not so long ago (a post on that campaign is here). “This is not your father’s GOP” might have similar lack of success. But insisting that this is still your father’s GOP (or more accurately, some white dude’s father’s GOP) seems like a formula for failure.
Cross-posted at PolicyMic.At the end of my sociology of gender class, I suggest that the fact that feminists are associated with negative stereotypes — ugly, bitter, man-haters, for example — is not a reflection of who feminists really are, but a sign that the anti-feminists have power over how we think about the movement. The very idea of a feminist, in other words, is politicized… and the opposition might be winning.
A clip forwarded by Dmitriy T.C. is a great example. In the 1.38 minute Fox News clip below, two pundits discuss a North Carolina teacher, Leah Gayle, who was accused of having sex with her 15-year-old student. One of the show’s hosts suggests that feminism is to blame for Gayle’s actions. She says:
There’s something about feminism that lets them know, I can do everything a man does. I can even go after that young boy. I deserve it… It’s turning women into sexualized freaks.
This clip reveals a discursive act. She is defining who feminists are and what they believe. And this idea is being broadcast across the airwaves.
This happens all day every day. Some of the messages are friendly to feminists, and some are not. These messages compete in our collective imagination. Most have little to do with what feminists (who are a diverse group anyway) actually believe and many are outrageous lies and distortions, like this one.
So, next time you hear someone describing a feminist, know that what you’re hearing is almost never a strict definition of the movement. Instead, it’s a battle cry, with one side competing with the other to shape what we think of people who care about women’s equality with men.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
We’ve posted before about how women are held disproportionately responsible for making holidays happen. In our imaginations, and all-too-often in real life, the majority of the cleaning, the decorating, the cooking, the gift buying, and the card sending is done by women.
Last year Jeremiah J. sent in a twist on this theme: a CBS report on the First Ladies’ intimate involvement in the decorating of the White House for the holidays. Accordingly to the guest, they are the “commander of chief of Christmas, and they all really care.”
Embedding is disabled (watch the video here), but here are some screenshots:
The segment is also a really great example of how women get associated with trivial things. In addition to that stunning line, “commander of chief of Christmas,” the guest explains: “they all have their signature style… it’s really a lot of fun.” Fun, yes, but not by any means important. At the end of the video, the guest is asked if she wrote the book on First Lady involvement with decorating because she wanted ideas for how to decorate her own home. A good sport, the woman replies yes.
This year the White House highlighted Michelle Obama’s role in managing the decorating of the 54 Christmas trees that currently dot the residence. The story specifies that Ms. Obama had help — 85 volunteers — but also that they were there to help her, specifically, with her job: “…none of this would be possible if not for the volunteers… and Mrs. Obama thanked them in her remarks this afternoon.”
Michelle Obama receives the “official White House tree” (LA Times):