Stating the Obvious

What, if any attention should be paid to the lack of equal representation between men and women in politics? A loaded question, right? Academics, students and ordinary people have struggled with this subject for many years. It is well known that men dominate politics, holding a majority of the powerful political positions. It is also well known that many would prefer to see more women enter politics, and win elected positions. So then why in 2010 is there still a large disparity between the number of men and the number of women being elected?

To illustrate the problem, we will take a brief look at American governors. You can perhaps call this a small case study, if you wish. As of today, there are 50 governors representing 50 states (obvious, I know). Of those 50 governors, only 6 are women, translating to only 12%. They are Jan Brewer of Arizona, Jodi Rhell of Connecticut, Linda Lingle of Hawaii, Jennifer Granholm of Michigan, Beverly Perdue of North Carolina and Christine Gregoire of Washington. (If it is of interest to anyone, of the 6 female governors, the first three mentioned are Republican, while the last three are Democrats). This is a very sad statistic, as that means there are 44 men representing the remaining states. The record for most women serving as governors at one time stands at 9, which would equate to 18%.

Of course 2010 is an election year in the United States. As such, many states are currently holding gubernatorial contests (an election to select their governor). As such, three of the above mentioned women will not be back in office for 2011. These include Lingle and Granholm who are term limited and Rhell who is retiring. Perdue and Gregoire do not contest their positions until 2012, while Brewer is currently running for a new term. This means we are down to three female governors after this elections (two if Brewer fails to be reelected).

But there is a bright side to all of this. There are 8 states which currently have women running in their gubernatorial contests. Even better news, is that two of the 8 states have both female Republican and Democratic nominees (which of course means that either way a woman will win). The 2 such states are New Mexico and Oklahoma. In New Mexico, the race is too close to call between Democrat Diane Denish and Republican Susana Martinez (although Martinez has been leading Denish for quite some time). In Oklahoma, the situation is different where Republican Mary Fallin is leading Democrat Jari Askins by a slim, but noticeable amount. So if you are keeping count, we are up to 4 female governors in 2011 guaranteed. We are now left with the rest of the races and speculation as to what will happen in them.

The most high profile of these races are of course California and Florida. In California Meg Whitman is taking on former governor Jerry Brown. The polls have been back and forth slightly in favour of both Whitman and Brown. However, at the moment the two are in a dead heat, and nobody is able (or foolish enough) to make a prediction. The same situation is present in Florida. Democrat Alex Sink is taking on Republican Rick Scott. While the polls have been giving Scott a slight lead, the state is a virtual toss up as well.

Alex Sink (D) Florida

Wyoming and South Carolina are two more states with female candidates. In Wyoming, Democrat Leslie Peterson is trailing Republican Matt Mead by double digit numbers at this moment. If the trend continues, it is not likely Peterson will win in her state. On the opposite side, South Carolina Republican Nikki Haley appears to be on her way to defeating her Democratic opponent Vincent Sheheen. Haley has been leading in the polls for the majority of the campaign.

Lastly in Arizona and Maine, two more women are in the midst of a bid to become governor. As noted above, Republican Jan Brewer is running. Her Democratic opponent Terry Goddard, while losing ground in recent weeks, is still within striking distance and the race is essentially a toss up. The story is similar in Maine, where Republican Paul LePage is battling Democrat Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell. Mitchell has been trailing in the polls recently, but the race appears to be still within reach for her in the coming weeks.

Jan Brewer (R) Arizona

So we have thrown out a lot of names and numbers here, so what does it all mean? Well after the 2010 elections are complete we know for sure we will have 4 female governors. If the polls are correct (please do not throw objects at me, they are correct sometimes) it appears likely that we will have one more making a total of 5 female governors. The race in Wyoming appears to be out of reach and thus will not produce a female governor. That means we have 4 states which could produce female governors, or 4 states that could not. Even if all 4 get elected, we would still only have 8 female governors and that would be representative of 16% of the total 50.

Just to throw some more numbers at you for comparison, in the United States Senate, 17 of the 100 seats are currently held by women and in the House of Representatives, 75 of the 435 seats are held by women. This works out to be 17 and 5.8 percents respectively. And of course, these numbers could go up or down depending upon the results of November’s election. While Canada scores better on representation by women in Parliament, with 65 of the 308 members currently being women (21%), our track record with female premiers (the equivalent of governors) is utterly pathetic, with only two elected premiers and one who inherited the premiership by becoming party leader.

As I read over this long post, I am wondering (as you probably are too) what the point is. The relevance is that while much emphasis is put on the lack of equality, it should not be considered a problem if women are not entering politics simply because they don’t want to. In addition, there should be no issue if they are failing to win elected office because of their political viewpoints. The problem only arises if women don’t get involved in politics because they feel they are not welcome, or they can not be successful, or because it is an ‘old boys club’ (an excuse I hate people using). That is when this becomes an issue. Quite frankly, I don’t know what the reality of the situation is. But while it does not appear to be getting better, I do hope the gap narrows in the coming years and that any barriers (real or perceived) to female participation are once and for all taken down.

Additional information on all the 2010 election races
CNN Election Center
CBS News Campaign 2010


About Chris James

A student of political science at a Canadian University sharing stories of interest on Canadian and American political and social issues.

Posted on October 18, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Realistically, I personally think the main reason that the number of women in politics is low is because of a lack of interest (not to say women are not interested in politics, but rather to say women are less interested in holding office). While there may be that label of politics being an “old boys club,” I personally don’t think anything drastic should be done such as making a set number of seats/political positions only for females. I am against this for a number of reasons, but the biggest is that if women are being put into office for the sake of filling a quota, many individuals will see these women as not being deserving of their seats, but rather just filling the spot because of their gender. This also would potentially remove a vast number of good male candidates from running. I do think women can enter into politics (and be quite successful… i.e. Margaret Thatcher in England) and should enter politics, but I think that there should not be any drastic action done to fix the issue at hand. The best candidate should be elected. No matter what their gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, beliefs, age, etc…

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