Once reluctant, women begin to run for office


People walk the streets of Phoenix during the Women’s March at the State Capitol on Jan. 21, 2018. (Photo by: Lauren Whetzel/Arizona Sonora News Service.)

Women make up roughly 50 percent of the United States. Yet they are only represented by 20 percent of Congress — 22 percent in the Senate and 19 percent in the House of Representatives. While women are qualified candidates and have proved that they can raise enough money to campaign, they just aren’t running.

This year might be different. The gender gap in politics has less to do with qualifications, and more to do with the consideration to run for office. Women who run for office tend to do just as well as their male competitors. Women are elected and re-elected. The problem is not enough women consider running in the first place.

Regina Romero, the first Latina to be elected to the Tucson City Council, said it’s harder for women to see themselves as elected officials because they don’t see enough role models.

Regina Romero stands with the rest of the City Council members on April 3, 2018. (Photo by: Lauren Whetzel/Arizona Sonora News Service.)

“We need to ask women to run, not just once but many times to encourage women to see themselves as a possible elected official,” Romero said.

In other words, women need role models, said Suzanne Dovi, associate professor of political science and philosophy at the University of Arizona.

When women run for office, women are more likely to talk about politics. Their sense of the possibility changes,” Dovi said.

Enrique Gutierrez, communications director for the Arizona Democratic Party, said women candidates often have more donations made to their campaigns.

The 2013 report, “Should Women Win More Often than Men? The Roots of Electoral Success and Gender Bias in U.S. House Elections,” by Kathryn Pearson and Eric McGhee, shows that when women get up and run for Congress, they win just as often as men. Dovi mentioned that female candidates are often more qualified to run and can raise more money for their campaigns than men.

Even with high donation rates, women face other difficulties running for office. When female candidates enter the spotlight, they expose themselves to hypersensitive problems that make them re-evaluate if the office is worth it.

“Besides political violence, trolling, death threats, character assassination, your body image is ripped apart, you’re presented as a bad mother. It’s amazing to me that women subject themselves to this,” Dovi said. “It’s like micromanaging what you wear, what your hair looks like, what your weight is. Are you smiling enough? Are you influenced by your period?”

In “It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office,” by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox, it was reported that an increasing number of successful women are “opting out” of their careers to fulfill traditional gender roles.

“Women’s dual roles also carry implications for their involvement in politics. The traditional division of household labor and family responsibilities means that, for many women, a political career would be a ‘third job.’ Because men tend not to be equal partners on the home front, entering politics does not interfere as directly with their ability to fulfill their personal and professional obligations.”

Romero sees hope for women.

“Ever since Trump got elected, you see more enthusiasm in women and people of color and underrepresented communities,” she said. “They say, ‘I’m going to make the sacrifice.’ They’ve been moved by unprecedented circumstances and feel like this is the end of the world, and we jump in and say we’re going to do something about it.”

Dovi agrees.

“The reason why I think there’s a growing number of women running after the Hillary campaign is because I think women got their hopes up,” Dovi said.

Alexandra De Luca, press secretary at EMILY’s List, says the political action committee’s goal is to end the perception that women can’t run. Between 2014 and 2016, 900 women came to EMILY’s List for help with their campaign. Since Trump has been elected, more than 34,000 women have come to EMILY’s List looking to run for office, according to De Luca.

“This isn’t a wave, this is a total shift in how American politics work,” De Luca said. “Women aren’t going to sit back and let these elections pass.”

Woman wears a “pussy hat” at the Phoenix Women’s March Sunday, Jan. 21 2018. (Photo by: Lauren Whetzel/Arizona Sonora News Service.)

The first Women’s March was a reaction to Trump being elected. In 2018, the theme was titled “March to the Polls” in an effort to raise voter registration and give a spotlight to women leaders in local communities.

There are 440 women running for the U.S. House and 54 women running for the Senate, according to Center for American Women and Piolitics.

“We’re trying to push other women to run,” Romero said. “It’s been happening since we got the right to vote. It’s hard and there’s a lot of barriers that get in front of us.” 

Lauren Whetzel is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at laurenwhetzel@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.”

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