Skip to main content

Where are all the women in gov't?

David Bernstein says the GOP is institutionally sexist. Here is the data that he draws that conclusion from:
Ninety percent of Republican US Senators are men. Ninety percent of Republican members of the House of Representatives are men. Ninety percent of new Republicans elected to Congress are men. Almost every leadership position among congressional Republicans is held by men.

Eighty-five percent of Republican state senators are men. Eighty-two percent of Republican state house members are men. Among new Republicans elected to state legislatures, the numbers are closer to 90 percent. Of 60 state legislative chambers under Republican majority control, just three, or five percent, have a woman speaker or president.

Of the major statewide executive elected positions -- governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and auditor -- there are a total of 14 Republican women currently holding office anywhere in the country.

In 435 congressional districts, Republicans will nominate in 2012 at most 51 women, or 12 percent. At best, 29 of those (including 21 incumbents) have any realistic chance of winning office -- that is, they are in districts not considered safe Democratic seats. By my count, it is nearly impossible for the 2013 freshman Republican class to comprise more than 10 percent women.

For Democrats -- who, I would argue, still have a long way to go in overcoming their own longstanding institutional sexism -- the equivalent numbers for all of the above are roughly double (or more) that of the GOP, and generally moving in the direction of gender parity rather than greater disparity.

Those numbers are a bit staggering when you consider that women make up about half of the population. If this isn't crystal clear evidence of at least the presence of sexism in previous generations I don't know what is. And while I'd say it's likely part of current sexism on the part of the GOP (less so with the Democratic party), I think it's more telling of those previous generations, at least when it comes to the national level.

Jonathan Bernstein (David's brother) keeps track of how old congress is, particularly the senate. It's pretty old. That's in large part because you need a lot of money and a lot of influence within the party to get nominated and to then win an election. In general, it takes a lot of time to gather money and influence. Thus older people are more prone to have those things. Due to sexism, women in those older generations that are currently in power had fewer opportunities than men to gain money and influence. So I think that's why you don't see many women in those positions.

On state levels and in places where it's less about money and party influence I think it's more a result of direct, current sexism. Part of the problem with the GOP is simply their hostility towards women via their policy preferences. That's probably the big reason women tend to vote for Democrats in pretty solid numbers. Because of that they just have no reason to get involved and run for offices in the GOP.

I'm not sure how you'd make it work. But the more I think about this issue the more I'm willing to support a mandate or quota for a certain number of women in public office. Women have been held back for so long that it has created very ingrained norms in our institutions, those that keep women out. And without their presence within those institutions the norms continue to be difficult to change.

You could argue that such a mandate is undemocratic. On it's face it is. But what is truly undemocratic (the better word is unrepresentative) is how poorly women are represented in this country and throughout the world. Reversing that trend would better serve democracy for everyone.