“Nevertheless, she persisted” is the quote from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that has been turned into a rallying cry for feminists everywhere.
After Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) was silenced during Attorney General Jeff Session’s confirmation hearing, McConnell uttered these three now infamous words in what was seemingly an admonishment. The phrase was quickly adopted by the feminist movement to describe women everywhere who refuse to be silenced.
Now, the phrase is featured as the theme for the 2018 National Women’s History Month. After being declared in perpetuity in 1987, March has been a month to honor women for their groundbreaking historical achievements and to promote the rights and protection of women everywhere.
Despite the enormous strides women have made in the last century toward equality, there is still a long way to go. While some may claim that women are now equal to men, due to anti-discrimination amendments among other federal laws, the treatment of women in the United States tells another story.
Whether it’s in the workplace, health care system, on the streets or in the home, women still face legal, financial and cultural obstacles that lead to an imbalance of power based on gender.
One of the most visible areas where women face an imbalance of power is within the United States government.
When faced with this dilemma, some say, “Well, run for office.” It’s true, having a seat at the table does make a difference. Many of the obstacles women face could be helped with new laws and regulations. However, women do not have an equal voice or vote within the national legislature.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, in 2018, women make up just less than one-fifth of Congress at 19.8 percent, and only 7 percent are women of color. Women are gravely outnumbered in both the Senate and House of Representatives, but what is the reason for this?
The simplest answer: Fewer women run for office.
However, to truly understand the political inequality in the U.S., one must understand why that is.
A popular theory cites familial obligations as a reason that discourages women from running. However, an article published by the Brookings Institute in 2014 debunked this claim. Research found that family concerns and children made no significant impact on a candidate’s decision to run, regardless of gender.
However, women candidates are asked predominately more family questions than men, creating the assumption that women are more concerned with how the office will affect her family.
Another reason: Women are also less likely to consider themselves qualified for any position. Whatever the reason, women are less likely to have confidence in their ability to have the qualifications for the office. According to a survey done by Politico, women in college are 50 percent less likely to believe they will be qualified to run for political office in the future.
However, the biggest reason lies in the recruitment of candidates. A study published by American University found that one of the reasons less women run for office is because they are never encouraged or asked to. When recruited, women respond as positively as men, but more men are encouraged by their family, friends, and those in the political field.
The problem is not with the candidates themselves but in the system. Women win elections and re-elections at the same rates as men. Therefore, women are just as likely to win in an election, they are just less likely to run.
The question, therefore, is what is the solution? How does the nation move towards a more diverse government? There is no simple solution or one act that will bring swift and definitive change. Social and cultural change is necessary. There must be a fundamental change in how the nation views women in politics and what kind of values it instills in the future generations.
For now, however, there are many steps that can be taken to move forward. Support organizations, such as Emily’s List and She Should Run, who aid women seeking office and offer training, campaign resources and funding. Most importantly, encourage the women in your life to run for office. This might be the most important and timely action you can take. Empower the women around you to pursue their aspirations, whether it be in government or any other arena in life.