By: Katherine Kennedy ’19, Expert Access Participant
Women’s involvement in politics is a growing topic of interest in today’s society. Politicians, media personnel, and citizens alike have been advocating for a larger role of women in the political stage. The 2008 presidential election heightened this call to action. Female leaders such as Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin, and Hillary Clinton were consistent actors in the growing focus on women’s roles in the political field. Since then, light has been shed on the lack of strong female presence in politics. Long standing stereotypes deem politics a male-dominant field. However, with this growing support of increasing women’s involvement in politics, the country may just see a shift in gender participation.
Of course, with this new wave of discussion about gender and politics came criticism. Some doubted Hillary’s ability to be ‘presidential’, which was often traced back to her gender. Similarly, those who spoke about women’s growing influence in politics were deemed ‘anti-Obama.’ Yet despite criticism in the capacities of female leaders, there has been a distinct shift in attitudes. A possible player in the growing call for female integration into the political field may be Michelle Obama and the role she played during her time as First Lady.
Michelle Obama, the first African American First Lady, has become a symbol of successful female integration into US politics. The discussion on women in politics may have begun with the 2008 elections, but Mrs. Obama’s activity during her time as First Lady has only ensured that the discussion will continue to be viewed as an important issue. Through her work in campaigns such as Let’s Move!, Joining Forces, and Reach Higher, Mrs. Obama has advocated for healthy living, support for military families, and education improvements. Her campaign, Let Girls Learn, is particularly influential towards opportunities for women as it focuses on educating and empowering young women around the world.
In the 2016 elections, there is once again a female presence among presidential candidates, and on both sides of the aisle. Thus, the discussion of women politics continues with new relevancy. There have been many different arguments presented as to why women have faced difficulty when attempting to join the field of politics, whether it the political culture or outdated misogyny. Research concerning women in politics continuously report themes of the creation of harsh gender expectations by society that prevent women from feeling comfortable in pursuing careers in the political field. The amount of publications regarding women’s struggles in the political field indicates that the movement to equalize the gender gap in politics is a growing focus in today’s society.
Once researchers have acknowledged the difficulties women face when attempting to become involved in politics, they move to the question of what impact women have once they are actually able to become members of parliament. Studies have shown that a larger participation of females in parliament would lead to an increase in human rights policies and discussion of social issues. Statistics show that women members of parliament are more likely to support policies such as education, family, health, violence against women, etc. Many scholars acknowledge the need for females in politics due to the documented differences in male and female political views.
Although there is support in political research journals regarding the impact women would have in politics, there is still much ground to cover in rallying social support. Although there have been arguments made to increase women’s participation, the field remains dominated by males. According to researchers, a more equalized gender participation in politics could bring about a change in policies that would represent a larger variety of issues and potentially speak for topics of concern that previously have not been given much attention.