Friday, August 15, 2008

Women in politics

I have been behind on my online reading, so I have only noticed this now. The American Prospect has an interesting article by Ann Friedman about women in politics, and how to get more women involved. It's from June, but it's hardly like it's not relevant any longer.

Beyond Hillary: Strength in Numbers

The Year of the Woman was 16 years ago, and the number of women in elected office has flatlined. Herewith, some ideas on how to build a critical mass of female officeholders.

Ann Friedman rightly points out that while there are some high profile women in politics (Clinton, Pelosi) these are the exceptions, not the rule. In other words, while they may have created cracks in the glass ceiling, the glass ceiling is still there.

What Friedman's article makes clear is that as long as there isn't a critical mass of women in politics, it's important that the women there is, work together and help each other. There should also be a concerted effort to promote women in politics by the political parties (Friedman speaks only about the Democratic Party, which honestly seems the most likely candidate, but the same ideas could apply to the Republican Party as well).

This sort of article will always raise the question, why should special effort be made to get more women into politics. After all, no special effort is made to get men involved. Well, that's correct, but if you ignore the fact that the entire society is structured in a way that gives (white) men and advantage in gaining positions of power. We see it not only in politics, but also in companies and organizations. One of the simplest ways this works, is the perception of women taking care, while men takes charge (see Women "Take Care," Men "Take Charge:" Stereotyping of U.S. Business Leaders Exposed (pdf)).

This means that people believe that if there is two equally qualified people of different genders, the man will be naturally better in a position where it's necessary to take charge.

Another barrier for women is the general pattern of women being the primary care-takers of children in a household, instead of it being a shared responsibility. This is something that's (too) slowly changing, but there is a long way to go yet.

Another objection that's often raised, is why is it necessary for more women in positions of power. Well, it might not be necessary as such, but more women in power will result in more focus on issues that concern women. It's not surprising that a large percentage of female politicians are progressive than male politicians, since many progressive issues relate directly to women. Also, there is the simple fact that if you exclude half the population from positions of power in advance, you'll not find the best people for the jobs, since some of them will be in the excluded pool.

Make sure to all look at the other articles linked from Friedman's article, they are all quite good.

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