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Confidence is key, is more than just a colloquial saying. It is an accurate description of the skill required for much in life, including success in politics. This is becoming a large problem, however, because women have been found to have much lower confidence levels than their male counterparts (Sutton). This is preventing women from having the ambition to enter politics. Women do not have enough confidence to succeed in the political realm due to sexism and traditional family roles, which greatly changes the way public policy is initiated, treated, and understood. In order to fix this problem, women must receive support, and gender roles and stereotypes of men and women must be changed.
Women do not enter politics due to the belief that they do not have what it takes. A study done by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox found that “women are only half as likely as men to think they would meet electoral success if they ran for office” (Lawless and Fox 116-117). The same study showed that when asked about potential skills required for political success that “women are less likely than men to perceive themselves as possessing the skill” (Lawless and Fox 117). These perceptions lead to lower levels of political ambition. A woman who believes that she is not qualified to run for office “is approximately only half as likely as a similarly situated man to express political ambition (Lawless and Fox 121). This pattern emerges in other areas as well. A new wealth of studies have shown that “men are indeed more confident than women (Sutton). This “confidence gap” is letting men out perform women in a myriad of areas. The first step to closing this gap is determining where it comes from.
The “confidence gap” is influenced by several factors. The first of which, directly relates to this gap in politics. Women are less confident due to sexism that is still present in this arena. Women still face harsh criticism when running for office. The media calls them “too ambitious”, “too tough”, “too soft” and a plethora of other harsh critiques (Kornblut 5-50). When Sarah Palin ran for office she was framed as “the idiotic beauty queen” and also very blatantly as a sex object (Kornblut 103,114). Unfortunately, these views are not just found in the media. “25% of the U.S. population still says that men are better suited emotionally to politics” (Paxton, Kunovich and Huges 271). With this sexism still prevalent in society, it is hard for women to remain confident in themselves and each other. This sexism is not just present in the political realm either. It starts much earlier.
Women’s confidence is greatly influenced by their upbringing. This is due to the gendered psyche. The gendered psyche is “a deeply embedded imprint that propels men into politics, but regulates women to the electoral arena’s periphery” (Lawless and Fox 12). The gendered psyche is cumulated during childhood, when traditional gender roles are established. This can be seen through the presence of political conversation. The study done by Lawless and Fox showed that “women were 15 percent less likely than men to have their parents encourage them to run for office”, and even on a more basic level, “they were nearly 20 percent less likely to have this fathers speak with them about politics” (Lawless and Fox 67). These differences are representative of the “patterns of traditional gender socialization that promote men’s greater suitability to enter the political sphere” (Lawless and Fox 67). Women who do not receive this support at home do not have the same confidence in their abilities when entering politics. Studies have shown that areas with more traditional cultures have fewer women in politics (Paxton, Kunovich, and Hughes 271). It is this atmosphere that causes women to have less self-confidence, which significantly impacts politics.
Women focus on different aspects of politics when in office. This means that they initiate different bills as well as vote differently than their male counterparts. One study showed that “female senators are more likely than men to prioritize issues related to health care, the environment, and education” (Fridkin and Kenney 11). Another study showed that “female legislators made priorities of bills dealing with children and the family more often than did men (Thomas 967). In general, women have also been found to be more liberal and to use a wider range of resources in developing a new policy (Carroll 977). These differences are mirrored in the way that women legislators voter. Women are “more likely to vote for women’s issues bills” (Paxton, Kunovich, and Hughes 273). These differences indicate that women in office will lead to different legislation being passed. Therefore, the confidence barrier preventing women from running for office has a very large scale impact. Women do not only propose different bills, the bills and ideas they have are handled differently.
Both legislators and the media treat bills and ideas differently, based on the gender of the person proposing them. “Reporters and editors favor male senators over female senators in terms of the number of paragraphs written, the prominence of coverage, and the accuracy in which they represent the messages emanating from the senators’ offices” (Fridkin and Kenney 11). This means that much of what female senators have to say is either ignored or distorted by the media. Similarly, “women-sponsored bills receive more scrutiny, debate, and hostile testimony than male sponsored bills” (Paxton, Kunovich, and Hughes 274). When bills and ideas coming from women are treated differently it impacts what becomes policy.
One solution to the confidence gap in women, especially in politics, is to offer support and recruitment. Women are more likely to have confidence in their abilities if they have someone else supporting them. “If all of the women in the pool of eligible candidates received the suggestion to run for office…then…the gender gap in considering a candidacy would decrease considerably” (Lawless and Fox 148). One group of organizations that has been doing an exceptional job at encouraging women is women’s organization. These organizations have been shown to promote real change. Women who are contacted by these organizations are statistically more likely to go forward in the political realm (Lawless and Fox 105). Women’s organization offer support, and reinforce the idea that women are capable of succeeding. This feedback is key for women to overcome the confidence gap. This has been shown on a basic level as well. A recent study looked at the results of positive feedback given to men and women and the resulting change in confidence. In reference to women’s confidence levels, the study showed that “they can be equal to men in the presence of externally mediated feedback” (McCarty 841). The study went on to show that women who received positive feedback had confidence levels equal to the men who had received none (McCarty 846). This shows the important role feedback can play. When it is confidence creating the gender gap in politics, women organizations and simple positive feedback can have a large impact. The origins of the confidence gap also have to be addressed. Gender roles and stereotypes need to be broken down.
Traditional gender roles and gender stereotypes need to be changed in order for women to overcome the confidence gap and succeed in politics. Traditional gender roles leave women in charge of the “private intra-familial” jobs, and the men in charge of “public extra-familial” tasks (Lawless and Fox 8). This has, historically, resulted in more men working their way into the political sphere than women (Lawless and Fox 9). As these roles are still prevalent in society, women are not raised to be active in politics. Additionally, women are associated with traits of warmth and concern while men are associated with being independent, ambitious, and other traits that are also seen as leadership qualities (Fridkin and Kenney 16-17). This prevents women from being seen as leaders by others, and other prevents women from having the confidence in themselves as leaders. To fix this problem, society must move past these gender roles and stereotypes. Studies have shown that “roughly between the ages of 4 and 14…self-objectification and internalized sexism settle into a girl’s psyche” (Chemaly). One study revealed that “sexual harassment was a nearly universal experience for adolescent girls” (Leaper and Brown 691). One of the most common types of sexual harassment reported was being called a degrading name due to gender. They also reported having their abilities questioned (Leaper and Brown 691). This sexism plays a key role in diminishing women’s opinions of themselves and thus lowering confidence levels. That means that changes must occur at this level, in order for confidence to be increased. This change can be accomplished through small tasks, such as changing what is taught to young girls and ultimately creating a more encouraging society. If this change can occur, girls will become more confident. If they can do that, they can grow to confident women ready to tackle politics.
There is no simple key to confidence. Women are losing confidence in themselves due to the sexism they see in politics, and their upbringing. This is very important to politics. When women are active in politics they initiate different bills, and vote differently on bills as well. Similarly, their bills are handled differently. This is, therefore, an issue that must be overcome. One solution is to offer more recruitment and support, especially from women’s groups. Another solution is to break down traditional gender roles, stereotypes, and biases for girls at a young age. These steps can give women the confidence to enter politics and greatly impact society for everyone.
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