Gender and Political Participation
Lawless in the book It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office, explores the question gender patterns in political participation, more so on the question of limited participation by women when it comes to elective politics. Loveless begins the exposition by exploring elective politics in general, as well as the gender patterns usually observable in politics. She then proceeds to explain why the situation is as it is, right from gender socialization, the traditional family roles, the role of the gendered psyche on the situation as well as the effect that a masculinized ethos has on female political participation. The book is therefore, an in-depth analysis of the current political situation, as well as explanations for the current situation.
The main points explored by the book include:
i) Existing explanations: Lawless explores the currently existing explanations including a lack of true cultural evolution and societal rejection in what Lawless refers to as “The Discrimination Explanation.” The second explanation provided by Lawless, is that of lack of institutional progress, as well as a smaller pool of eligible candidates
ii) How political office and its roles are not palatable for a typical household woman, or a woman socialized to believe in the family dream, hence an explanation of how family roles may act as significant impediments to a woman’s political ambition.
iii) The book explores how the socialization of eligible candidates usually differs significantly to that of a typical wife.
iv) Further, the book also explores the career women that are likely to venture into politics.
v) How political recruitment is skewed in favor of the male gender
vi) How gender psyche and a feeling of being unqualified discourages most females from running for office (poor self perception).
vii) The sexist environment that is commonplace in politics also affects the willingness of women to participate.
viii) How the decision to run for office is a process and requires courage and sacrifice that most women are unwilling to offer.
a) Is politics structured in a way that discriminates women?
It is plausible to argue that politics and the political arena is set up in a way that only suits the male gender, while significantly discouraging female participation. The sexist nature of contemporary politics also serves to worsen the situation
b) Can cultural evolution resolve the lack of equal gender participation in politics?
The problem cannot be cured through cultural evolution alone, or through affirmative action alone, more so if the problem of institutional incumbency persists. The way in which political organizations and the electoral processes are set up, play a significant role in reducing female participation.
c) How much of an impediment is self-perception to the participation of women in politics?
Self perception is in my opinion the biggest impediment, as regardless of how many laws are changed, if women do not feel sufficiently capable to offer themselves as candidates, the level of gender participation will continue to remain skewed in favor of the male gender. Most of the reforms that need to occur will also not take place.
d) Does political candidacy depend on one’s socialization?
Lawless’ suggestions that candidates are socialized in a different manner is plausible, more so when one considers the fact that certain families usually have a tendency of producing politicians and the existence of political dynasties. Candidates are therefore, socialized in a manner different from that of the rest of the population
Gender participation in the political field differs from other fields mainly due to the fact that politics is significantly influenced by cultural beliefs and societal values. The success of female candidates usually depends on how society values a woman, or how the given society views the role of the woman. In some societies, female contestants are not viewed kindly, as they are seen as none conformists and rebellious. Although with time the attitude of most of the public and of societies has changed towards female candidates, the motivation to seek office amongst the women is seemingly minimal or non-existent. The problem is therefore, both at a personal level, as well as at a cultural level, with politics considered too dishonest a profession for women. Secondly, women seemingly do not consider politics a profession worthy of their participation.
Lawless, J. L. & Fox, R. L. (2010). It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. New York: Cambridge University Press.