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Davis, California

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Women challenging underrepresentation in politics


Why women are banding together to say that enough is enough

In 2018, women hold 19.6 percent of the seats in U.S. Congress, 22.8 percent of the positions in state executive office and 25.3 percent of the seats in the state legislature, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. These statistics show a striking imbalance in the ratio of women’s representation in the political arena compared to that of men. But exactly what can explain this significant gender disparity?

Delaine Eastin, a current Democratic candidate for governor of California, a former regent of the University of California, a former trustee of the California State University system, a former superintendent of Public Instruction, a former state assemblymember and a UC Davis alumna, believes that there are numerous institutional forces in place preventing women from getting elected into positions of leadership.

“In general, the bigger the state or the bigger the city, the harder it is to elect women, and the same can be said about the size of the legislative offices,” Eastin said. “Genuine discrimination exists against women, but there are other factors that enter into it. One of the challenges in America is that we have a political system that’s very expensive to participate in, and women have a harder time raising money.”

Eastin solidified her arguments by offering a personal anecdote demonstrating how she experienced this prejudice firsthand.

“When I was in the city council, there were seven candidates running for three seats,” Eastin said. “Three incumbents were running with two challenging men and two challenging women. The guy who owned one of the local businesses wrote all the men a $500 check and wrote the other women and I each a $300 check. It’s sexism, and it happens all the time.”

According to Eastin, this sexism breeds societal norms and stigmas that work to undermine a women’s full political potential, thus hindering her chances for professional growth.

“I think there is still a stigma [regarding women in politics],” Eastin said. “There is an implicit bias in men and women about what women can do and ought to be doing. The idea that a women can lead is absurd to some men.”

Maiya De La Rosa, a first-year political science — public service major, member of the Davis College Democrats, Ignite, and California Women’s List and chair of the Latino Caucus of the California Young Democrats, believes that these stigmas have manifested themselves into our political culture and force women to behave only in ways that are deemed appropriate.

“There’s a stigma of women in politics that you have to be somewhere between motherly and strong,” De La Rosa said. “You can’t be too aggressive or you’re a man-hater, and you can’t be too soft or you’ll get nothing done. You have to find some in-between, and sometimes it feels like it’s impossible.”

According to De La Rosa, these stigmas are intensified for women of color, making it even more difficult for women of diverse ethnic backgrounds to hold positions of power in politics.

“Women are not a minority group, but politics has always been so male-dominated, and the statistics go down for women of color in politics,” De La Rosa said. “For me, that’s really important, and it’s why I felt like I needed to get involved. I grew up in Orange County, a very male-dominated district, but then I see people like U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, a woman of color in power. That shows me that there are women that can do this.”

Data and statistics do indicate that women of color are far less likely to be elected into office — 36.2 percent, 11.3 percent and 24 percent of the women who hold seats in U.S. Congress, state executive offices and state legislatures respectively are women of color, according to the Center for American Women and Politics. Jumoke Maraiyesa, a third-year sociology and political science double major and current ASUCD senator, says that on top of gender biases, the lack of inclusive representation in politics is also a product of oppressive systemic forces that are inextricably tied to race.

“It’s definitely a systematic issue; there’s no other way to put it,” Maraiyesa said. “We know the history of the United States. It heavily started with just males — and we know which demographic of males — that were eligible to be in elections or just politics in general. You move further down along the line and you have women’s suffrage, but even then it was a bit problematic because you only had a certain demographic of women who were allowed to participate in politics.”

Maraiyesa said that their gender and ethnicity leave them vulnerable to public judgement, because those factors will always play a role in how others perceive their actions as a senator.

“It’s kind of like when I was congratulated for Senate,” Maraiyesa said. “I feel like it’s a lot of pressure and there’s going to be a lot of eyes on me. If I mess up, people will say ‘Oh, it’s because she’s a woman.’ And then if you mix that with race and ethnicity, it’ll be like ‘Well what did you expect from a minority, or a black women in general?’”

As an Asian American, Teresa Lam, a third-year political science major and former candidate for ASUCD senator, understands what it feels like to be a woman of color in politics and, subsequently, having to constantly face social and political barriers.

“It’s definitely way harder to be a woman in politics, but being a person of color just adds even more to that because there are so many prejudices against us,” Lam said. “If an Asian American were to run, it would be odd because you don’t typically see Asian Americans in that [political] bubble. There’s already a set norm on what a person can do and what a person can be.”

Lam takes pride in her ethnic background, using the struggles of those before her as a source of inspiration to keep her active in the political arena.

“My parents are immigrants and I’m a first-generation kid,” Lam said. “They gave up so much just to be in America, and that’s what keeps me going. Looking at our democratic system now, it has changed a lot and it’s not as representative as it can be. I do believe that any individual can make a difference, and that really pushes me to be more involved.”

Though the current demographics of women in politics are low, they have risen substantially relative to past decades. Victoria Harper, a first-year political science major, a member of the Davis College Republicans and the judicial council clerk for ASUCD, firmly believes that despite the numerous setbacks that women have endured in the past, they should in no way feel discouraged from participating in politics in the present or future.

“Men have had a long time in history to build these images up for themselves [and to] pick and choose what kinds of politicians they want to be to get people to vote for them, [but] women haven’t necessarily,” Harper said. “We’re rising in this country. It’s been a tough time, but we’re still rising, and that’s what’s important.”

Harper argues that women need to use the past as a motivational push to collectively work towards a better, more inclusive future.

“As women, if we want representation in politics, we need to focus on us growing,” Harper said. “It’s important to know what struggles we have gone through. However, I think one of the most important things for us as women is to continue to push through. Females are still rising. We need to empower ourselves with the numbers that we’ve achieved; we’ve achieved great numbers.”

According to Shaniah Branson, a third-year communication and political science double major and ASUCD executive vice president, it is crucial for women uplift one another and embrace intersectionality, because that will breed the most tangible change.

“Gender equality must be embraced fully, by both men and women, if we are to evolve culture and ourselves,” Branson said. “But more importantly, empower the women around you — whether you agree with their political positions or not and despite personal controversies. When women continuously empower women, imagine how unstoppable we ALL will become.”

Sydney Hack, a second-year political science — public service and international relations double major and member of the Judicial Council of ASUCD, says that in order to bridge the gender gap in politics, women need work to empower the younger generations to use their voices and get involved in the political process.

“I think it’s leading by example,” Hack said. “We’ve never had a women president. I don’t believe we’ve ever had a female vice president. We’ve only ever had four women on the Supreme Court out of at least 70 plus Supreme Court justices. We are not represented, but it’s definitely something we can change if we encourage girls and make [female representation] normal.”

Many would argue that the younger generations are already breaking gender barriers in the political sector. Emily Rose Jones, a second-year political science major, a member of the Davis College Democrats and J Street U and the women’s caucus of the California Young Democrats, believes that society is in fact moving in a progressive direction and will continue to do so in the coming decades.

“I think our generation is really where it’s changing,” Jones said. “I think it’s part of this process, [a process] that’s been really slow-going, of recognizing the voice that everyone should have in politics. It’s becoming more acceptable to have a powerful women [in politics]. We’re getting there and the narrative is changing […] and I think that we’re going to see a lot of progress in the representation that we see from women and from all branches.”

The narrative for women is indeed changing day-by-day, but the demographics show that there is still work left to be done. Eastin wants every woman to know that although the battle for gender equality will be difficult, it is a battle that needs to be fought and won.

“I think that the future of the Republic — ethically, economically, in terms of civility and in terms of justice — requires that more women participate,” Eastin said. “It’s imperative at this point. Every step forward where there is equality, whether it’s based on gender or race or sexual orientation or whatever it is, is a step in the right direction. We may take two steps forward and one step back, we may stumble. But we have to understand that the battle for truth and justice is never-ending. And yes it’ll be hard […] but it’s always better to be involved in a just cause.”



Written by: Emily Nguyen — features@theaggie.org



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