I do not consider myself to be a very political person. I pay a healthy amount of attention to politics during big election years and I enjoy the occasional West Wing rerun, but I certainly wouldn’t want to engage in a debate any time soon. However, I feel like I should know more and care more about politics so I do try to make an effort to pay attention. But apparently, when it comes to women caring about politics, I may be an outlier.
The results of a recent survey showed that there is an huge nationwide gap in political knowledge between women and men. Why are women so disengaged? I believe that it may have something to do with the fact that there are so few women in politics. Sociologists said that the results reflected how marginalized women still feel from public life, where the majority of leading figures are men.
The Independent conducted a global research project, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, to test knowledge of domestic and international news in Australia, Canada, Colombia, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, the UK and the US. The gap was evident regardless of the country’s wealth or policies.
Although women are statistically less knowledgeable about current events, last November The Washington Post reported that for more than 40 years, women have been the most reliable voting bloc and outnumbered men in voter turnout. According to the article, “both political parties have cruised to power in recent elections on the strength of the female vote. In 2008, Obama got 56 percent of women’s votes, an astonishing number for a non-incumbent. Two years later, women favored Republicans over Democrats for Congress, 49-48 percent, in what was widely seen as a rebuke of the first two years of the Obama administration.”
Caroline Criado-Perez, founder of The Women’s Room, a group focused on gender imbalance in the media, explained in an interview with The Independent that she’s “not surprised [by the findings] because there’s a lot of research into the fact that women need to see themselves represented in order to feel part of the debate. Girls aren’t born not interested in politics—any more than boys are born engaged with it. Boys are shaped to be interested in it and feel they have a stake in it and people are listening to them.”
There are currently 98 women in Congress, 20 in the Senate and 78 in the House. While this is a historically high number, it still only represents 18 percent of Congress. Women hold 22.1 percent of available statewide executive positions, down from 27.6 percent 10 years ago, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Other studies have found that it isn’t sexist to comment on female candidate’s clothing choices. With all due respect, who of us does not remember the obscene amount of attention paid to the presidential and vice presidential candidates’ wives last November? Or what about when it was revealed how much Sarah Palin was spending on her wardrobe during her run for vice president? “I don’t think Joe the Plumber wears Manolo Blahniks,” Joy Behar said on The View. This definitely lost John McCain and Palin some points since they had been trying to score points off the idea of the Obamas as elitists.
Hillary Clinton is subjected to constant scrutiny? From her scrunchies to her pantsuits, her fashion sense is often the main conversation topic instead of her great merits. It is no wonder women are not engaged in political discourse. If women aren’t respected and taken seriously, why would they be interested?