Dismantling the Paradigm
by Rajika Bhasin
In the 240 years since the Declaration of Independence, 13 women have run for President of the United States, with only one becoming a major party’s nominee. Only 19% of the 535 seats in Congress, and 20% of the 100 seats in the Senate are currently held by women. Outside the United States, more than 70 women have been elected as leaders in 59 countries. Notable among them are Senegal, India and Pakistan, which rank 82, 87, and 143, respectively, out of the 144 countries in the 2016 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report (the US ranks 45).
The 2016 campaign exemplified the omnipresence of gender bias in our national debate. Whether this bias stems from biology, upbringing, or some combination, two important paradigms continue to shape the participation (and success) of women in politics, and society generally.
The first, is the practice of equating masculinity with political legitimacy. Traditionally feminine traits, such as being nurturing, kind and compromising, run contrary to ingrained voter psychology. The traits championed in leaders – being rational, decisive, commanding and strong – are traditionally masculine. Ironically, when women display these traits, they are disliked for not being feminine enough. This leaves women “navigating a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t minefield of public expectations.”
The second, is that women, across all professions, underestimate themselves and hesitate to pursue advancement. Study after study confirms that while their performances do not differ in quality, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both.
But you don’t need to read this – you experience it every day. And likely have, for years.
According to the World Economic Forum’s research over the last decade, progress on gender disparity across health, education, economy and politics is still too slow to realize the full potential of women within our lifetimes.
We need to stop thinking this way, as voters and women.
The current administration is not only hostile to women, but proactively seeking to reverse the progress we have made over more than 100 years. And we still have so far to go.
Consider this: Donald Trump has zero record of public service and political experience. Ben Carson similarly has no experience in elected office. Marco Rubio decided to run for President before completing his first term, which was still two years more experience in the Senate than Ted Cruz. How well known was Barack Obama when he announced his candidacy for President?
There are at least a dozen more qualified women in Congress today, than any of these men were then. And that’s just in politics – there are scores more overqualified women generally that would make a better President than the one we have now.
Things won’t change until we force them to. Tell that negative voice in your head to shut up every time you hear it. Get involved in your community and find out who your women / pro – women leaders are (or become one yourself). Encourage them to run for higher and higher office and campaign for them in swing states when they run for President. Track lawmaking and hold your elected officials accountable. Donate time, money and other resources to causes you care about. These are just a few examples.
You don’t have to be politically-minded to know that the laws passed and the people elected over the next 4 years will impact you, the people and planet you love, for generations to come.
Let’s do this.