Although the 2016 election could result in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president of the United States, the number of women in elective office in the U.S. is still low, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, a research and advocacy organization.
In 2016, women occupied an average of 23 percent of elected offices in U.S. Congress, statewide electives, and state legislatures. In Kalamazoo, two of the 11 county commissioners are women. This number has the potential to rise this November with six female candidates running in five districts.
“We need more women in office,” said Tracy Hall, WMU graduate and candidate for county commissioner in Kalamazoo’s 3rd District. “Gender does matter, and it matters that we have people who look like us; who understand what we go through, in office.”
Hall remembers in 2012 when Michigan state Reps. Lisa Brown, D-Mich., and Barb Byrum, D-Mich., were barred from speaking on the floor after saying the words ‘vagina’ and ‘vasectomy’ while speaking against a bill that would place restrictions on abortion: “It really vstuck with me how much work we still need for women,” Hall said.
This work motivated Hall to run for city commission in 2013 and continues to motivate her to run for county commission this fall.
“All the candidates get sent a sample ballot to make sure our names are spelled correctly, and to see my name just under Hillary Clinton’s name, I got all sorts of choked up,” Hall said.
When WMU student Sophie Driesen was asked if U.S. government should be more representative of women, she said, “If they can do it; if they are suitable for the job, but it doesn’t have to be equal.”
“I don’t think Hillary is fit at all,” Driesen said.
Another WMU student, Rinicia Clay was asked the same question. “I think so, yeah,” Clay said. “Maybe it would be more fair. If [women] were a majority, what they say would have more acknowledgement.”
The 2012 Men Rule report from the Women and Politics Institute at American University, a private research university, identified factors that affect women’s decision whether or not to run for elective office:
Women are more likely to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates.
Women are less likely to think they are qualified to run for office.
Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns.
Women are less likely to receive the suggestion to run for office ㅡ from anyone.
Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks.
Kalamazoo City Commissioner Erin Knott is one of two women on the commission who faced gender bias in the political arena firsthand when she ran in 2015, she said.
“At times, there was backlash,” Knott said. “We ran a couple of Facebook ads: a picture of me with some message about the importance of having women on the commission, and there were some men that I don’t know at all, came out and attacked me [on Facebook] for a number of reasons, including being a woman.”
Voters, regardless of their gender, are less likely to vote for women candidates that they view as power-seeking, according to a 2010 study from Harvard Kennedy School’s Gender Action Portal. Multiple studies have found that women candidates receive more attention related to their appearance, personality, and family than men, according to a 2015 article produced by Political Parity, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization.
“Just look at what Hillary has gone through: The dissecting of what she wears, and her hair, and her voice,” Knott said. “I mean, I could go on and on.”