John Cookson on October 19, 2010, 12:00 AM

Ninety years after the 19th Amendment guaranteed their participation in American politics, women are still greatly underrepresented in elected office—even though new research shows they may be more effective
politicians than their male counterparts. According to the Center for
American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, women currently hold:

  • 16.8% of seats in the Senate and House of Representatives
  • 22.5% of statewide executive offices (including governors and lieutenant governors)
  • 24.6% of state legislative positions
  • 17.5% of mayoral positions in cities above 30,000 people

But an ongoing study by Sarah Anzia at Stanford University and Christopher Berry at the University of Chicago has found that districts served by women
legislators are at a distinct advantage over those represented by men:
U.S. congresswomen bring home roughly 9 percent more discretionary
spending than congressmen. As a result, districts that elect women to
the House of Representatives receive, on average, about $49 million more
each year. The report finds that bringing home more federal dollars and
benefits doesn't hurt women legislators' performance in
policy-making—congresswomen sponsor more bills and obtain more
co-sponsorships for their legislation than their male colleagues do.

This difference in performance between female and male legislators may be a result, in part, of the plain fact that it is more difficult for women to get elected. Titled the "The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson
Effect," the report finds higher performance amid persistent bias has a
systematic effect on who reaches the highest level—and on what they do
while they're there. Jackie Robinson was one of the greatest baseball
players of his day not because he was African-American, but rather
because the discriminatory bias against African-Americans in baseball
meant higher-level talent was needed to break those bias barriers.  

"If voters are biased against female candidates, only the most talented, hardest working female candidates will succeed in the electoral process," Anzia and Berry write. On top of that, "if women
perceive there to be sex discrimination in the electoral process, or if
they underestimate their qualifications for office relative to men, then
only the most qualified, politically ambitious females will emerge as
candidates." It doesn't matter whether the sex-based selection is from
actual or perceived, active or passive, origins, the report finds that
"women who are elected to office will perform better, on average, than
their male counterpart."

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, attributes this difference to the fact that women are more collaborative. She tells Big Think that "women are
actually more inclined towards that more modern leadership, which is
collaborative problem-solving, enabling, consultative, not just trying
to assert a kind of hierarchical power." Men may also employ this sort
of leadership, but it is distinctly feminine, she says. 

Robinson is living proof that this feminine style of leadership can be both effective and popular. Halfway through her term as president, she had an unprecedented approval rating of 93%. She achieved this not
by playing down her femininity but by embracing it. "When I was elected
President of Ireland, I was determined to show that I brought to it the
fact that I was a woman and was going to do it with various skills and I
felt that they were enabling, problem solving, being more inclined not
so much to want to lead in a kind of a natural way, but rather to lead
by discussion and empowerment of others—to lead by example, lead by
nurturing." But there is still a double standard for women politicians,
she says. "If men are bold and assertive, that’s admired. If women are,
it’s called shrill."

And if there is one rule in politics, it is that action is less important than perception. But here things get complicated for female politicians in general. In terms of individual leadership traits, women
are perceived to possess more of these traits than men, but that doesn't
translate to being perceived as better overall leaders. In a 2008 Pew
Research Center survey of
eight important leadership traits, women outperformed men on five and
tie on two. Americans ranked women higher in honesty, intelligence,
compassion, creativity, and outgoingness—by as much as 75 percent. And
in the qualities of hard work and ambition, men and women tied,
according to the survey. The only quality in which men scored higher
than women is decisiveness, in which men and women were separated by a
mere 11 percentage points. Yet when asked the single question if men or
women make better leaders, the results seemed to contradict these other
findings: a mere 6 percent of the 2,250 adults surveyed say women make
better political leaders than men, with 21 percent favoring men and 69
percent saying the sexes are equal in this area, which explains the
report's subtitle, "A Paradox in Public Attitudes."

So what accounts for this perceptual paradox? Politics professor Michele Swers of Georgetown University tells Big Think that it's not simply a matter of if women are more effective legislators; party
politics plays an essential role in who gets elected. “If you look at
how people react to candidates, there are certain stereotypes that
people have in their mind about what’s a women’s issue and what’s not a
women’s issue, so you may be more likely to prefer a female candidate if
what’s on your mind are issues like health care and education, for
example,” she says.  "However, when I’m in the voting booth, I’m voting
for the Republican or I’m voting for the Democrat, so those gender
stereotypes interact with that type of thing as well,” she adds.

A female Republican candidate, for example, might sway a voter by being Republican or by being female, and for following the policies perceived to be favored by either, Swers explains. Essentially,
more women are elected to the highest ranks in politics when more are
candidates from prominent political parties. The difficulty lies in
producing a political system, both in the U.S. and around the world,
that accomplishes this.

Views: 61

Replies to This Discussion

Yeah! I would say Ginger was more talented! Was it because she was a woman? Maybe the world will never know...
I'd also be interested in demographic comparisons, e.g. how much does one's electability depend on wealth or how rural their constituents are, etc, which might explain some of the bias.

Still, and speaking of stereotypes, my current conjecture is that men are endowed by nature with more effective Scoundrel Genes. Perhaps some women geneticists could help make a few adjustments to the Y chromosome.
Haha, I didn't want to direct the conversation that way because--like you say--it's the culture that's the most fixable. But I had to say it because I'm partly serious about it.

Related, esoteric bumper snicker: Got Genghis Khan Chromatin?
No, just made it up. Unless (hopefully) someone's ahead of me, out there...
Personally I don't think it's genetic... I think it's hormonal. Some [highly controversial] studies have found a link between testosterone levels in both genders [male and female] and aggression. It seems this is most pronounced with regardss to sexual crimes [esp. rape] among males. Higher levels of testosterone seem correlated with higher levels of aggressive behavior in most mammals. [Notice.. an unneutered male dog shows higher levels of aggression [sexual and otherwise] and dominance than a neutered male dog... the same does not appear to be true with female dogs] - although PLEASE spay your female dogs unless you want puppies! The testosterone - aggression hypothesis seems to perfectly explain the decline in aggression in neutered male dogs. ... a neutered male has no testes and thus lacks a normal level of testosterone.
Here's a link to an article on the subject of aggression and testosterone:
I agree it's relevant to a bigger picture. But I didn't want to take it too far because--correct me if I'm wrong--the best we can do atm might be to get more women into politics.

No wait, too wishy washy. The best thing to do IS to get more women into politics.
Interesting. I had suspected this. Don't tell the men. lol
(I swear, caffeine makes these random thoughts manifest in me little brainy.)

So it's interesting now the sexual innuendos slung in the campaigns, especially by women.

* Man Up!

* Got Cajones?

* Limp (whatever... what was it?)

I say Manhood, Schmanhood! (And no, I'm not inferring discussion of hooded vs hoodless.)
No, thanks. Corrections appreciated. I even checked it quickly in google, and it didn't correct me. Duh, then I missed the spelling in google's first link.

Blasted google! Always tweaking the tech.
Odd how the study does not include in those necessary characteristics the ability to sway/lie. A while back they studied pre schoolers and kindergarden boys and girls and tested early characteristics of leadership and found that persuasive lying was a major trait for leadership. They tested this by making a batch of sour lemonade and dividing the class into groups. Then the children were ranked according to their leadership and popularity.

To test the persuasive lying factor, the kids in the making lemonade group had to convince the kids in the tasters group that the lemonade was delicious. The boys with the best lying abilities were also class leaders and Mr. popularity, but the females with the best lying abilities were NOT popular in class! I don't remember all the details, but the conclusion was males=lying ability/persuasion=popularity, females=lying ability/persuasion=NOT popular. I see this as a major impediment to females in the political sphere.
Wow, even at that age?! What culture?
can't remember, it's been a few years, if I'm recalling correctly it was done in Canada, but not sure, as I lived some time in the USA, I could be wrong, but definitely N.America.


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