The number of women running for Congress this year is higher than ever before – nearly 300 have filed for seats in the House. The previous record of 262 was set in 2010. There is a strong possibility that the new House may be 20% female compared to 17% now – as we approach what many believe is a “critical mass” of 33% that will result in a genuine sea-change in American politics. The US ranks 78th, behind 95 other countries, in terms of women’s representation, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.
After I filled out my own election ballot for the August primary, I decided to analyze my own voting for gender balance. Here is what I discovered. I voted for 21 individuals – only 5 of them women. I was concerned and revisited my ballot. I then discovered that in the 16 races where I chose a man, only three had women running. The other 13 contest were male only!
After a little more research, it seems there are strong indications that many women put off running for office because of the treatment they receive in the media – particularly Republican candidates. Research on media behavior in 2010 showed that women candidates received 68% less coverage than men on issues, and three times more coverage of their appearance than their male counterparts. Each year at Seattle Girls’ School, about 85-90% of the class runs for a Student Council office. The result is a high level of investment in the process, the outcome, and the goals for the year. You just don’t hear, “Oh, it doesn’t matter who gets elected.” We teach our students that we each have power to influence and change the outcome. If we don’t work hard to end the media bias in portraying female candidates, we are going to be leaving some very capable leaders “cheering” from the sidelines. Women want to be in the game, we just need to play fair!