Women in Congress seek con­sen­sus

The Covington News - - OPINION -

Cur­rently 20 of the 100 U.S. se­na­tors are women, as are 78 of the 435 rep­re­sen­ta­tives, for a grand to­tal of 18 per­cent of con­gres­sional seats.

In con­trast, ac­cord­ing to exit polls, women made up 53 per­cent of the vot­ers in the 2012 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Pres­i­dent Obama won women by 10 points.

This might lead you to won­der: Why aren’t more women run­ning for and win­ning elected of­fice? There are four times as many men in Congress as women. In other words, those who are be­ing elected do not rep­re­sent those who are vot­ing, gen­der wise.

While their num­bers are smaller, their in­ter­ac­tions dif­fer from those of their male coun­ter­parts. One such dif­fer­ence has been or­ches­trated by Sen. Bar­bara Mikul­ski, D-Md.

“Off hours, the Se­nate women have a bi­par­ti­san din­ner to­gether once a month, a rit­ual or­ga­nized by Ms. Mikul­ski, which they say cre­ates per­sonal bonds and helps them work to­gether on pol­icy,” wrote Jennifer Steinhauser of The New York Times.

“The din­ners are the only rea­son I’ve been suc­cess­ful,” Ms. (Kirsten) Gil­li­brand (D-N.Y.) said, re­count­ing how Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Repub­li­can of Alaska, helped her write the bill that pro­vided health care to the first re­spon­ders to the at­tacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“In the Se­nate you have to start with a bi­par­ti­san core to get things done, and that core is of­ten formed with the women,” Ms. Gil­li­brand said.

It’s not just that women pro­vide role mod­els for the next gen­er­a­tion; it’s also that they fo­cus more on con­sen­sus-build­ing over fierce par­ti­san ac­tiv­ity, ac­cord­ing to an April ar­ti­cle in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Po­lit­i­cal Science by Craig Volden, Alan Wise­man and Dana Wittme.

“Pre­vi­ous schol­ar­ship has demon­strated that fe­male law­mak­ers dif­fer from their male coun­ter­parts by en­gag­ing more fully in con­sen­sus-build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties,” they con­cluded.

Con­tentious and par­ti­san ac­tiv­i­ties of male law­mak­ers may help them out­per­form women when in a po­lar­ized ma­jor­ity party.

“How­ever, in the mi­nor­ity party, while men may choose to ob­struct and de­lay, women con­tinue to strive to build coali­tions and bring about new poli­cies.’’

So if women are con­sen­sus-builders, why aren’t more elected? The an­swer may be found in a May pa­per from the Amer­i­can Univer­sity School of Pub­lic Af­fairs, “Girls Just Wanna Not Run: The Gen­der Gap in Young Amer­i­cans’ Po­lit­i­cal Am­bi­tion.” The au­thors cite five key rea­sons:

“Young men are more likely than young women to be so­cial­ized by their par­ents to think about pol­i­tics as a ca­reer path. ... Young women tend to be ex­posed to less po­lit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion ... Young men are more likely ...to have played or­ga­nized sports and care about win­ning. Young women are less likely ... to re­ceive en­cour­age­ment to run for of­fice -- from any­one. Young women are less likely ... to think they will be qual­i­fied to run for of­fice, even once es­tab­lished in their ca­reers.”

While both male and fe­male re­spon­dents in the sur­vey said that they want to im­prove the world, they dif­fered in how to do so.

“Fe­male re­spon­dents were 50 per­cent more likely than male re­spon­dents to say that work­ing for a char­ity is the best way to bring about change. Men ...were nearly twice as likely as women to see run­ning for elec­tive of­fice as the best way to bring about change.”

Pos­si­bly it’s the ap­par­ent dys­func­tion in Wash­ing­ton that is off-putting to women. Why run for of­fice where there ap­pears to be lit­tle progress made by those elected? But pos­si­bly, if more women were in of­fice, Wash­ing­ton might prove to be a bit less dys­func­tiona.

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