Have you noticed historically that there are far more males in politics than females? Why is that? Are there benefits to being a man, in the political field, over being female? As a country, the United States of America has had 45 presidents. All 45 of those presidents have been male.

As of 2016, America is ranked 104th in number of women with government appointed officials. Of the Upper House or Senate, the U.S. has 100 seats, but only 21 of them are held by females. On Lower House, they have 435 seats and only 83 are females. We are very behind in comparison to other large countries like Mexico, Sweden and Germany. (Inter-Parliamentary Union Staff, 2017) An American politician and former member of the United States House of Representatives in 2016, Elizabeth Holtzman, wrote an article for the website Politico, where she discusses the troubles she faced being a woman in politics. In her article, she says;

"In 1972, when I first ran for Congress, my rival mocked my campaign against him as an attempt to topple the Washington Monument with a toothpick. The local Democratic political “boss” sneeringly dismissed me and my supporters as “Holtzman and her squaws.” A major newspaper headline called me a “wispy challenger,” focusing on my height and weight instead of the substance of my platform. (Holtzman, 2016)"

            She discusses that she was one of sixteen members in the house when she was first elected and that in the 1970’s and 1980’s to be a professional working woman in any field experienced firsthand discrimination and sexism. (Holtzman, 2016) It is clear that females have a difficult time being elected into any kind of office, but why? A major issue for women in politics is our society's views on gender roles for females. In this paper, we will be discussing how gender roles affect women in politics and their relation to the deliberation.

Gender Roles

            Before looking more in depth at how gender roles affect women, we need to discuss what they are. Gender roles are culture given stereotypes on how males and females should behave or act in society. It is a device that is used to divide people and give them roles on how to behave based on their sex. Gender roles can be very harmful for both women and men. They can be harmful to self-esteem, body image and self-objectification. (Pennell & Behm-Morawitz 2015) It can also give unwanted and unwarranted stereotypes that are not based in reality. The term gender roles are commonly confused with sex roles, but they are different.

"The behaviors, attitudes, and activities expected or common for males and females. Whereas sex roles are essentially biologically determined (ensuring successful reproduction and forming the basis of sexual division of labor, in which women are associated with childrearing), gender roles (behavior that is considered "masculine" or "feminine") are culturally determined. (Hirsch et. al, 2002)"

            The concept of masculinity and femininity is consistently connected to gender roles. Masculinity is having qualities that are traditionally connected to men, traits like strength, ambition, aggressiveness, independence and rationality. Femininity is having qualities that are traditionally connected to women, traits like sensitivity, nurturing or motherly, concern for family and relationships, emotional and affectionate. These gender roles have been around for a long time and are based on old traditional values that our country once had. If women or men don't fit these traits they are subject to disapproval and ostracized. In politics, there is a double standard for females that men don't have issues with.

The Double Standard

            Males usually have more leeway than females in the realm of politics. Males can do a lot more and act more aggressively due to our culture describing this as normal behavior for them. An example of this would be when discussing the use of attack ads. The attack ad is a common form of political advertisement used to assist a candidate by showing their opponent in a bad light. The goal is to potentially receive more votes from voters who are still on the fence about the candidates.It is a technique that has been used since 1952 until present and many candidates who use it often win (Trent, 2016).

            Contemporary campaigns have used techniques like personal witnesses, comparisons, negative association and a talking head. (Trent, 2016) An example of this would be President Nixon's 1972 attack ad called “The McGovern Defense Plan.”   The commercial starts with the camera looking at toy soldiers and an announcer comes on and says “The McGovern defense plan.” A hand then comes into frame and sweeps away a group of toy soldiers. The announcer then says “He would cut the marines by one-third. The air force by one-third. He would cut the navy personnel by one-fourth. He would cut interceptor planes by one-half, the navy fleet by one-half, and carriers from sixteen to six.”  During this dialogue, every time a cut to military was discussed, more toy soldiers were removed from the camera shot by hand. This ad then has senator Hubert Humphrey discussing McGovern’s proposal and says, “It isn’t just cutting into manpower. Its cutting into the very security of this country.” The last scene shows Nixon aboard a naval ship and the announcer says, “President Nixon doesn’t believe we should play games with our national security. He believes in a strong America to negotiate for peace from strength.” (Trent, 2016; )The attack ad was very useful for Nixon, but why wouldn't it be for a female candidate?

            Female candidates receive a lot more backlash for using them than men because the tactic opposes what a “good” female should be based on our gender roles.  If men use attack ads, they aren’t seen in such a negative light because males are described as acting this way. For males, the aggression that they are displaying when using attack ads is okay because gender norms or stereotypes have deemed this as acceptable behavior. If a female is to use attack ads, they are described as mean, cruel and “bitchy.” These are the opposite of the gender roles for females and it puts the female candidate into a negative light, which is the exact opposite of what they want. The point of the attack ad is to put the opposition into a negative setting, not the candidate creating or using this it.

"The use of negative attacks by women- and in slightly greater percentages than their male opponents-defies conventional wisdom, which holds that women should not use such aggressive, unfeminine strategies and would, in fact, raise the level of civil discourse." (Banwart, 2010)

            Females in politics face a double standard where men can use these more aggressive tactics but females cannot. This is due to the gender roles and our society's views on how women should behave. This issue is huge for women. Seeing and knowing the bias that they face is likely to be discourage a lot of them from even running for office. It can lead to women having self-doubts about whether they are even qualified to run. A study released in 2012 called Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics discusses female involvement in politics. They make the claim that women believe that they are twice as likely to view themselves unqualified to run for office than men. The study was originally conducted in 2001, and in 2012 they revisited the study and found that there was no change. Men are reported as being almost 60 percent more likely than women to view themselves as “very qualified” to run for office.  In Holtzman’s article she discusses moments when she encountered an “Congress members only” establishment in the capitol that wouldn’t allow congresswomen in at all. She also met voters that told her that “certain elected offices were inappropriate ‘for a woman’.”

            In the study by Lawless and Fox, it was also found that females are also at a disadvantage because they are far less likely than men to receive a suggestion to run for office from anyone.

"Recruitment and encouragement lead many individuals who otherwise might never consider running for office to emerge as candidates. Ten years ago, women were far less likely than men to report being recruited to run for office. Over the course of last decade, however, many women’s organizations burst onto the political scene. They vary in mission and target group, but collectively, these organizations endeavor to move more women into the networks from which candidates emerge. Indeed, 22 percent of the women in our sample report some contact with a women’s organization whose mission is to promote women’s candidacies. Yet the gender gap in political recruitment remains substantial." (Lawless & Fox, 2012)

            Females don’t just struggle with this bias and preference for men as government officials, but they struggle with the self-confidence to even run and receive little assistance when they do. Women are often over-sexualized in our society, so when females enter politics they are far more likely to be judged on their looks than the content of their message. This was very evident in the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in 2016. During her campaign, she had to deal with articles with the titles “Hillary Breaks Out The Ugliest Outfit in Human History” (Prestigiacomo, 2016), “Who wore it better? You won’t believe Hillary’s new outfit” (Schilling, 2016) and “Who Wore It Better: Hillary Clinton Or This Sofa?” (Hemingway, 2016). Looking at these titles, they focus on her looks and fashion choices rather than her politics and opinion. They also commonly refer to her as just "Hillary," which is a sign of disrespect to her as a serious candidate. Up until this point we have discussed gender roles and their involvement in politics, how they can affect women negatively while assisting men, how females are put into a position where they must fight their insecurities developed by American society, how they receive very little help when and if they do run for office and that they are far more likely to be judged on looks than men. Having this information, how are we to promote the deliberative process of leveling the playing field for women in politics?

Women in Politics and Deliberation

          Deliberation occurs when individuals analyze a problem and, after a period of inclusive and respectful debate, discover a well-reasoned solution. To have meaningful deliberation, certain elements are required. It must be built on a solid and factual information base. Key values must be identified, prioritized and included in possible solutions. A broad range of solutions should be identified. Only then can positives, negatives, and trade offs be weighed against each other. “All members of a democracy must have the chance to figure out which issues concern them, what they think about those issues, and how they should vote when given the chance to do so.” (Gastil, in Kennamer) Deliberation is a part of a social process where all participants should be given adequate speaking opportunities and participants should give careful consideration to the views and opinions of others. Democracy only works when it includes deliberation because it encourages the participation of wider audiences, which will give us the ability to gather the experiences and views of diverse groups of people. With the issues women face in politics, it greatly affects deliberation.  

          When discussing successful deliberation, consistent themes are inclusivity and respectfulness. In the current American political landscape, women are far too often excluded and disrespected. Women are as talented as men at  problem-solving in government." It has been shown time and time again women want be a part of government. In fact, the first women's-rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, NY, in 1848, to discuss the first women’s-rights convention was held to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of women, and in 1997, when Madeleine Albright became the first female Secretary of State. (Staff, 2010) During important events where an issue is needed to be combated and with the exclusion of women in politics, we have the potential of missing out on the key information and better solutions could go unidentified.


            In our society, it is easy for women to be discouraged from participating or being a part of politics. They must overcome traditional thinking and fight for equality in a society that actively works against them in completing that mission. Even though the fight for equality has not yet been won, it is important to realize that it is getting better in America. Women continue to meet new goals and ranks in government which is described perfectly by Elizabeth Holtzman, she says

"June 7, 2016, was such an extraordinary moment in American history. That night, I watched as Hillary Clinton, whose career started not long after mine—and intersected with mine during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon—became a major party’s presumptive presidential nominee."

Even though Clinton didn’t win the election, time and time again women continue to impress. I expect someday soon the gender gap between women and men in our government will close. Hopefully it is sooner rather than later. However, in our lifetime our country has made important steps forward in securing the inclusiveness and respect that deliberation requires.  

Follow Nightwing on Twitter @NightwingResist


Works Cited

Banwart, M. C. (2010). Gender and Candidate Communication: Effects of Stereotypes in the 2008 Election. American Behavioral Scientist, 265-283.

Hemingway, M. (2016, August 24). Who Wore It Better: Hillary Clinton Or This Sofa? Retrieved from The Federalist.

  1. D. Hirsch, Jr., Joseph F. Kett, & James Trefil. (2002) Sex Roles/gender Roles. The new dictionary of cultural literacy: what every american needs to know. 3rd ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Holtzman, E. (2016, June 29). "Not a Job for a Woman": Think electing Hillary Clinton isn't important? Here's what the glass ceiling felt like when I ran for office. Retrieved from Politico.com: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/2016-hillary-clinton-woman-women-politics-feminist-feminism-history-sexism-leadership-214000

Inter-Parliamentary Union Staff. (2017, January 1). Women in national parliments. Retrieved from Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Kennamer, J. (2017) Political Communication and Deliberation (Based on John Gastil, Political Communication and Deliberation, Chap. 1, 3-13). Retrieved for Portland State University, COMM 320.

Lawless, J. L., & Fox, R. L. (2012, January). Men Rule: The Continued Under-Representation of Women in U.S. Politics. Women & Politics Institute School of Public Affairs. Washington, DC.

Pennell, H., & Behm-Morawitz, E. (2015). The Empowering (Super) Heroine? The Effects of Sexualized Female Characters in Superhero Films on Women. Sex Roles, 72(5-6), 211-220. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0455-3

Prestigiacomo, A. (2016, August 25). Hillary Breaks Out The Ugliest Outfit In Human History. Retrieved from The Daily Wire.

Schilling, C. (2016, August 24). Who wore it better? You won't believe Hillary's new outfit. Retrieved from World Net Daily: http://www.wnd.com/2016/08/who-wore-it-better-you-wont-believe-hillarys-new-outfit/

Judith S. Trent, R. V. (2016). Political Campaign Communication: Principles & Practices (8th ed.). Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.

Staff, H. (2010). Famous Firsts in Women's History. Retrieved from History.com.