Women currently make up 19.8 percent of Congressional seats – that’s 106 out of 535 seats, a significantly uneven proportion. Yet compared to when Jeannette Rankin became the first woman in Congress by winning the House seat from Montana in 1916, it’s a vast improvement. Women still have a long battle ahead, but the 2018 state representative ballot predictions show that the tide is changing.
At least 79 women are running or considering to run for governor in their states, according to The Washington Post. The number of women filing their candidacy for other seats in public office rose from 391 in 2016 to over 600 for 2018.
“In this cycle, the most surprising thing is how sustained the energy is and the enthusiasm,” said Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic candidate for Michigan governor. “I was always a little concerned that maybe we’d get numbed to everything that’s happening, the enthusiasm would wane, and it hasn’t for a second. A lot of it is being organized by and sustained by women.”
The increase in candidacies is a sign that the female population is challenging the longstanding, traditionally-male dominance in the legislature – a field that voters see is fit for women because it’s collaborative, according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics.
“It runs up against the stereotype to see women as the chief decider, the place where the buck stops,” said Walsh.
People who have long been underrepresented in the legislature – not just women, but racial and ethnic minorities as well – have been making waves since the new administration began. 2017 saw Seattle elect Jenny Durkan as its first female mayor in nearly a 100 years. In Charlotte, North Carolina, Vi Lyles became its first black female mayor.
Compared to countries around the world, the U.S. Congress’s 19.4 percentage of female representatives is nearly 4 percent below the world average of 23.3 percent. Nordic countries have 41.7 percent of legislators who are women, while Sub-Saharan African legislatures have a 23.8 percentage of female representation.
Studies of prospective candidates indicate that American women are much less likely to view themselves as qualified to run for elective office than their male counterparts, and the findings state that there are a variety of reasons why. The causes range from women seeing men as more qualified to run, the perception that the electoral environment is highly competitive and biased towards women, and that they see the lack of prominent female representation already in Congress, so they deem campaigning as impossible.
Yet to the women vying for a spot at the political table, their gender is not a hindrance, but rather an asset to their campaign.
“I don’t back down,” Tennessee Representative Diane Black, the first woman to chair the House Budget Committee, said in her announcement for gubernatorial candidacy. “Maybe it’s because I grew up in a family where we had nothing, or maybe it’s because I was a single mom working the night shift as a nurse. It’s just how I’m wired.”
Nevertheless, the spike in female participation in politics has started a ripple effect, motivating other women to step up and take charge in order to make changes happen.
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