Why 100 Women In Congress Is Not Enough

November 13th 2014

Lindsay Haskell

This year's midterm election was historic in that 100 women were elected to Congress for the first time in US history, but despite these gains, we still have a long way to go; women comprise over 50% of the U.S. population and only make up 19% of Congress. Why is this the case?

Research from American University's Women & Politics Institute revealed the following:

  1. Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
  2. Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies aggravated women’s perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena.
  3. Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office.
  4. Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts.
  5. Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
  6. Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office – from anyone.
  7. Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks

The media coverage of women on the political stage may also be to blame for why women shy away from Congressional elections. Female eligible candidates believed that both Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin were victims of sexist media coverage and over scrutiny of their appearances during their runs for president and vice president, respectively. In fact, 84% of women believed Hillary Clinton was subject to gender bias from voters. 

But what are we losing when women shy away from the risks of the political arena? Quite a lot, indeed. Research by Michele Swers, an Associate Professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University shows that Congresswomen are more likely to prioritize issues that affect women, children and families, such as healthcare. So far, despite the fact that 72% of Americans favor a government-administered insurance plan, many in Congress continue to oppose the Affordable Care Act and seem more intent on destroying it as a whole instead of proposing alternative options or changes. With more female voices in Congress, perhaps adjustments can be proposed instead of merely using Obamacare as a political pawn. 

Although the immediate risks of running for office - especially with the threat of sexism in the media - can seem overwhelming for women, the greater risk for us as a nation may be to not support female Congressional candidates.