In 2011, there was one important seat missing from the House of Representatives: a toilet seat.
It was not until that year that Congress approved to add a women’s bathroom on the male-dominated House floor. Today, 98 Congresswomen represent the largest number of female legislatures in U.S. history.
Even though they are causing a stir in the political agenda, there are many basic liberties for American women that are continually being encroached by legislation around the country.
America prides itself on the principle that every citizen, regardless of gender, has the equal right to pursue a desired career, create their own family lifestyle, and involve him or herself in any aspect of society. If this were completely true, why are a majority of Congressmen and local representatives routinely claiming that they know what is best for women? The answer may be found on the following graph.
The World Bank ranked 40 countries in correspondence to the percentage of women serving in their national government in 2012. The United States falls in 30th out of 40th place at 18.3%. Surprisingly, the U.S. lags far behind many underdeveloped countries like Rwanda (1st), Uganda (9th), Afghanistan (15th), and Iraq (20th). These rankings also show that more female representatives actually make a distinctive difference in laws geared toward protecting women.
With 56% of women in parliament, the Rwandan government has reportedly decreased the number of rapes, domestic abuse, and male-oriented schools since the country’s genocide. Women contributed to the country’s Constitution, which prompted female protection legislation. For example, a commission is in charge of reviewing and rewriting laws that put women at a disadvantage. More female role modes on the national level have reignited the confidence amongst Rwandan women.
In Sweden, women hold 156 seats of 349, landing them in second place at 44.7%. The Riksdag was largely male-dominated until 1972, when the two majority parties vocally acknowledged that a woman’s opinion is necessary for a successful, representative government. Trying to diminish the gender gap, the political parties each used the slogan “Every other seat for a woman” in the 2006 election.
This does not suggest that American women must wait for Congressmen to create a “call-for-participation” campaign; that has never been the case. But you would think that after all the achievements women have made in the workforce since the 1970s that more would exist in national and local governments by 2013.
An explanation for this comes from a survey published in Political Psychology that tracked how students characterize female politicians versus the everyday woman. Female politicians were not described with typical alpha female adjectives such as “strong,” “beautiful,” and “motherly.” Rather a majority described them as “too emotional,” “uptight” and “dictatorial,” all highly negative traits for success. Male politicians were donned with stereotypical “businessman” traits including “leader,” “competent,” “confident,” and “charismatic.”
Those who ignored the stereotypes are the women we see in Congress and in local government today, but their representation is obviously not enough to curb predetermined beliefs. While we know that women posses these qualities and exude them well, the study points out that females are less likely to run for office than men because they have internalized these labels and gender roles for generations. In a CBS poll, men were more likely than women to agree that the United States is ready for a female president at 60% and 51% respectively.
Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who introduced the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and reignited the debate against sexual assault in the military, believes that more women in Congress is the winning ticket to empowering women and legislation.
“When women are at the table, a broader agenda is discussed, an agenda that looks out for all Americans, particularly those who are voiceless,” she wrote in her latest article for PolicyMic. “Women's voices are not better than men's, they're different and the broader perspective that we bring often leads to better results.”
By the time millennials are in governmental power, women will share close to, if not the same number of seats with men in Congress. More young women are enrolling in college today to pursue political science degrees. The motivations are different, but the resilient females currently in power are definitely a factor.
Women in all sectors must continue to voice their interests and concerns because if they don’t, those talking heads that claim to know what females want and how they work, both physically and emotionally, will.