Years ago, no one would have predicted that a woman would be the Democratic presidential nominee. Nor would we have predicted that a woman would have a strong lead in presidential polls and the approval of several of her peers. Yet here we are. While Hillary Clinton is not the first woman to run for the presidential nomination, (Shirley Chisholm was the first woman to run for the Democratic nomination in 1972) she is the first woman to RECEIVE the nomination of either major political party.
Knowing this, many women would believe that we have made significant strides in leadership. While this thought does ring true in some areas, there are a few places that have been slow to ride the wave. Insert my home state here. South Carolina. As a resident of South Carolina for many years, I have seen it all both good and bad. I know what some of you are thinking, “Doesn’t South Carolina have a female governor?” Even with a female governor, South Carolina, like many other states continue to decline in the amount of female political leadership. Out of all of the good ol’ fifty nifty United States, only eleven states have had women serve as their governor. So while it is true that women have made several strides in leadership, political leadership continues to be an obstacle. Especially in rural and southern areas.
When asked about the leading cause of the political disproportion, Kendra Stewart, College of Charleston political science professor summed it up best, “There has been a decline in the respectfulness of our public debate. Hillary Clinton by her own admission has developed a thick skin. Nikki Haley (SC governor) too. But I can see a lot of women who don’t want to go through that or put their families through that.” (The State)
Even more sobering is the lack of political leadership opportunities for black women. Black women currently represent a fair amount of economic and voting base in America, yet are still largely under-represented in political office. Of the eleven female elected governors, none of these women have been black. Black women make up almost 7 percent of the US population, yet only 3 percent of Congress and 1 percent of statewide elected officials. In short, women are continuing to make up more of the population, and less of the legislature. The laws and policies that will undoubtedly affect all women, are out of our hands and ultimately out of our control. State level politics continue to be the largest (and most important) area of opportunity as many decisions and policies happen at the state level.
“There has been a decline in the respectfulness of our public debate.”
In my 20 something years of living, this has been one of the truest statements I’ve ever read. Even as women continue to break down barriers, there are still several areas where we struggle to take hold. Women are still less likely to hold positions of leadership and continue to fall lower on the economic scale. We are often passed over as political choices and have less access to money and resources when running for political office.
The levels of respect for women in the political world, while improving, still has a long way to go. As we continue to watch the excitement (and sometimes outright drama) of this presidential election, let us hope that it begins to change the conversation for women in the are of politics. Let us continue to press forward and break down the barriers of gender biases and racial disproportions. In the words of Congresswoman Shirley Chishlom, “At present, our country needs women’s idealism and determination perhaps more in politics than anywhere else.” Decades later, these words still ring true. In order for women to change the world, it is important that we advocate and support one another. The only way to seriously affect change is to make sure you have a seat at the decision making table. Let us strive to come together as women, mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters to help each other gain those seats. It is only then will we change the nature and thus the narrative of political leadership.
Bergengruen, Vera. ( 2016, August 1) Women have a come a long way, but not in SC politics. The State. pp. 1A, 7A
Voices. Votes. Leadership: Status of Black Women in America (2015). Higher Heights Leadership Fund. Retrieved from http://www.higherheightsleadershipfund.org/2015_report
Written by Michaela Phelps, Staff Writer #MyGirlSquad