"[I]t will come, but I shall not see it ... It is inevitable. We can no more deny forever the right of self-government to one-half our people than we could keep the Negro forever in bondage. It will not be wrought by the same disrupting forces that freed the slave, but come it will, and I believe within a generation."
Susan B. Anthony, famously known and respected for introducing women's suffrage into the United States, and for playing a pivotal role in the 19th-century women's rights movement, made this statement before she died, and years before women were finally given the right to vote in August 1920. While she was not alive to see the enactment of the Nineteenth Amendment, she was one of the key influencers shaping women's role in politics and our country for decades to come.
Today, as women represent more than 50 percent of the population, and after more than 90 years of having the right to vote, why are we not seeing an increasing number of women in politics, either running for office or in policy making? And, more importantly, how can we exponentially close the gender gap for those in office and in leadership roles within government? Some would suggest that there has actually been a decrease in women running for office overall. According to a recent article in The Washington Post, "At a mere 16.8 percent of House membership, women's representation in the United States' national legislature last year ranked 78th in the world, tied with Turkmenistan." The article goes further in saying that after the 2010 midterm contests, the number of women in the U.S. House dropped for the first time in over 30 years. There are now only 73 women voting members in the House.
It certainly isn't due to lack of interest. Women are more involved than ever on a grassroots level. Influential political groups and PACs, like Emily's List (a pro-choice Democratic group to elect women to office) and the Tea Party Express, have women leadership and greatly influence the outcome of elections at a local and national level.
Beyond these political groups, women are, as of recent, more likely to vote in elections than men. In 2008, for example, 66 percent of women (70.4 million) voted in the general election, compared with 62 percent of men (60.7 million).
Even more confounding is the fact that in business and education, women have made significant strides. In business, although the gender gap remains wide, there are now nearly 20 women CEOs running Fortune 500 firms (more than ever before). And in education, women attend and obtain degrees from colleges and universities at a faster pace than men today, translating into increasing college enrollment for women.
So, while women are active participants in political organizations and getting out to vote, they are hesitant to actually run for office. So what gives? As Michele Bachmann's adviser, Brett O'Donnell, put it, "We've got to stop everything about whether a candidate has cankles, and how she does her nails, and does she wear her hair up or down." Although somewhat said in jest, there is absolutely some truth to the idea that women are treated differently. Looking back on the 2008 campaign, it seems like the media was more focused on Sarah Palin's wardrobe, hair, and style than her role as a vice presidential candidate. And beyond the media scrutiny, running as a woman can be an intimidating undertaking. Not only is there still is a perception of an "old boys' club" on Capitol Hill, but there seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy that women politicians aren't taken as seriously and will have a more difficult time winning.
Whatever the reasons, the country will only benefit from having more women in leadership roles. They should be part of the major decisions that directly impact women (contraception comes to mind) and bring an alternative viewpoint to the other issues of the day. Just as many corporations preach "workplace diversity," we need a variety of perspectives in government decision making.
Susan B. Anthony paved the way for women to have a voice in politics. And remarkable women, like Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, have continued to blaze that trail. No matter the obstacles and perceived difficulties, we need to continue encouraging women to run for office.
This week, Glamour is conducting a political panel at 92nd Street Y ("Running in Heels: Where Are the Women Candidates for 2012 -- And How Can We Get More of Them?"), moderated by Chelsea Clinton. The panel will focus on how to get more women to join the political conversation: by running for office and by getting into politics and policy making, and how the country can benefit from their participation.