Sex In Congress

Here on Scienceblogs, many of us ponder the gender disparity in the sciences, but the gap goes well beyond the ivory towers into another area we discuss at The Intersection worth exploring:

Congress: women hold 87, or 16.3%, of the 535 seats in the 110th US Congress -- 16, or 16.0%, of the 100 seats in the Senate and 71, or 16.3%, of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives. In addition, three women serve as Delegates to the House from Guam, the Virgin Islands and Washington, DC.

So if half the population has about 16% representation across the board on Capitol Hill, what's going on? Now while I've got a few suggestions, I like the way former Representative Florence Dwyer (R-NJ, 1957-1973) put it:

"A Congresswoman must look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, speak on any given subject with authority and most of all work like a dog."

Sounds familiar and poses quite a formidable challenge... Do readers agree, or are there additional reasons that far more men are seeking public office?


i-13446fd9db96ce0222a87e4c498bdd5f-women in congress.jpg

[The 16 female senators of the 110th U.S. Congress: (front row) Claire McCaskill, Dianne Feinstein, Maria Cantwell, Lisa Murkowski, and Olympia Snowe; (back row) Blanche Lincoln, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Barbara Boxer, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mary Landrieu, Debbie Stabenow, Susan Collins, Barbara Mikulski, Elizabeth Dole, Amy Klobuchar, and Patty Murray.]

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These kinds of jobs are probably less appealing to women who are more nurturing and interested in individual relationships.

I'm not sure that more men seek elected office, but I suspect that far more men can put up with the rough and tumble of elected office. One must put up with YEARS of that cr*p to get to Washington. Do as many women as men want to put up with it, in my view, is the better question.

Best,

Ã

I'm proud to say that one of those women represents me. Barbara Boxer is a fantastic woman, and I'm happy to have her representing me, regardless of the fact that we're not the same gender.

You definitely have to remember though that the majority of the people serving in the Senate and House right now are the result of the Leave it to Beaver generation, and some of those ideas still exist in that older generation.

I think that those dynamics will slowly start to change as younger generations move into politics and female politicians like Hilary Clinton (who I don't like, but not because she's a woman) come to formidability. Certainly, the women of my generation will be active in politics. Whether they will bring this to equilibrium, I don't know, but it would be nice to see.

It's worse in the corporate world. Of the 500 companies on the Forbes 500 list, know how many of them have women CEOs? Twelve. In fact, a common complaint by men who undergo gender reassignment surgery is the loss of the Male Privilege status in society.

Just food for thought...

I'm interested in your take, Sheril. Why do you think it breaks out like this?

Do we know that more men seek office? (I'm supposing they do.) Is a man more likely to be elected when there is a man vs. woman ballot? ( curious about that one ). Are men more likely to get funding for their campaigns? (I would bet that they are, if for no other reason than the old boys' network).

@ Ãano - What do you think is the reason for that?

They probably have to be tall compared to other women. Hilary Clinton is 5'6, so most of those women would be 5'7 or taller. That's 1 SD above the female mean.

On a related note, why doesn't anyone complain about fields where females make up a majority? Like, say, undergraduate studies. Or social work, nursing, and other careers.

Or among people who've had others trip over themselves to help the person out -- how many guys in high school or college had girls offering to do their homework, drive them places, buy them drinks in a nightclub, and so on?

These "there aren't enough women in area X" are typically pie-in-the-sky arguments: women want all of the benefits they already enjoy in virtue of being women (free drinks, deluge of attention until age 30, excelling in the helping professions, etc.) as well as those that men tend to enjoy in virtue of being men (greater dominance, for example). The real world doesn't work that way: it's made up of trade-offs and constraints.

Quoth agnostic "These "there aren't enough women in area X" are typically pie-in-the-sky arguments: women want all of the benefits they already enjoy in virtue of being women (free drinks, deluge of attention until age 30, excelling in the helping professions, etc.) as well as those that men tend to enjoy in virtue of being men (greater dominance, for example). The real world doesn't work that way: it's made up of trade-offs and constraints."

Me thinks you have not traveled in the company of many modern women, especially many modern scitntist women, like our able host Miss Sheril. Were you to do so, I suspect you would come to learn that the "benefits" you describe are really liabilities for many strong, educated, emotionally mature, intelligent and sexy females. They do not deserve to be reduced to free drinks or attention meters - and I know some 40+ year olds who will turn my head more often then their younger counterparts simply on an attitude basis.

That said, I think Miss Sheril has opened an interesting door. I may need to contemplate more before stepping fully through it. My gut says we're not seeing more women elected to national office because women as candidates in large numbers is a modern (i.e. last 30 years) phenomenon. Given how long it takes for one to rise politically from local to state to federal politics, It's no wonder so many women aren't in the House or Senate. I expect that will change as time goes on.

I imagine that a part of the answer might be in looking at what percentage of these ladies are Democrats versus Republicans. I know Democrats don't have anywhere near a 50/50 female/male congressperson split, but I'd imagine the numbers look more even than on the Republican side of the aisle.

(I'm too lazy to look the actual numbers up; I'm basing this on what I learned from reading the Y: The Last Man comic book. You might want to check it out.)

I'm interested in your take, Sheril. Why do you think it breaks out like this?

Do we know that more men seek office? (I'm supposing they do.) Is a man more likely to be elected when there is a man vs. woman ballot? ( curious about that one ). Are men more likely to get funding for their campaigns? (I would bet that they are, if for no other reason than the old boys' network).

All excellent considerations Steve, and you bet I have much to say in an upcoming post...

These "there aren't enough women in area X" are typically pie-in-the-sky arguments: women want all of the benefits they already enjoy in virtue of being women (free drinks, deluge of attention until age 30, excelling in the helping professions, etc.) as well as those that men tend to enjoy in virtue of being men (greater dominance, for example). The real world doesn't work that way: it's made up of trade-offs and constraints.

Oh agnostic... I regularly enjoy your thoughtful comments here, but you had to expect I would call you out this time regarding the idea that 'women want all of the benefits they already enjoy in virtue of being women'. And I will ;)

Me thinks you have not traveled in the company of many modern women, especially many modern scietntist women, like our able host Miss Sheril. Were you to do so, I suspect you would come to learn that the "benefits" you describe are really liabilities for many strong, educated, emotionally mature, intelligent and sexy females.

Philip, careful or you'll make me blush. As far as those liabilities, right on!

And finally Todd's point is worth exploring. It would also be interesting to compare with which parties receive a higher percentage of the female vote.

With so many avenues to wander down with readers, more on women in government soon.

Heh, bring it on Sheril. ;)

Phil, you're wrong about who I roll with; I know whereof I speak. (And you need to find a subtler way than effusive flattery to hit on smart and pretty girls -- email me and I can give you pointers.)

No one's addressed the height thing -- we know that the taller candidate almost always wins the presidency, and that CEOs are on average 6'1 or 6'2. When your daily routine consists of trying to dominate adversarial strangers (as with politics and business), height may really pay off in establishing a commanding presence.

If so, females are at a disadvantage, and that has nothing to do with society, only genetics. In our society, over 90% of variation in height is attributable to genetic variation. Females are on average 5'4 and males 5'9, and since the SD is 3 in., that's 1 2/3 SD difference.

Linking the picture to No Doubt's "I'm Just a Girl" - Nice touch. I look forward to the next article(s) on this.

The Wikipedia Women in US Senate page is useful.

Of 16:
11 are Democrats
5 are Republicans

3 states have 2 female Senators:
CA: Boxer and Feinstein (D) (live in Oakland & San Francisco, resp)
WA: Cantwell and Murray (D)
ME: Collins & Snowe (R, but in the old days might have been called moderate Republicans, which these days causes some to call them RINOs.)

As it happens, of the 11 Congressional districts considered part of the SF Bay Area, 6 have female (D) representatives:
CA08 Nancy Pelosi
CA09 Barbara Lee
CA10 Ellen Tauscher
CA12 Jackie Speier
CA14 Anna Eshoo [where I live]
CA16 Zoe Lofgren

By John Mashey (not verified) on 01 May 2008 #permalink

re: height
yes, although at 4'11", Barbara Boxer manages to survive.

Strangely, the height thing carries over into cyberspace, and back.

a) If you have a video conference setup, people defer more to people whose screens are mounted higher, compared to if mounted lower.

b) I've talked to social scientists who having a great time using Second Life for research. Taller avatars are more aggressive than shorter ones, and there is some back transfer: if you give people shorter taller avatars, it affects their behavior back in the real world.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 02 May 2008 #permalink

Another tremendously important factor is incumbency. Assuming a 90% incumbency rate (at best) with half the newcomers being women (replacing men and assuming no women lose or retire), it would still take seven election cycles (16% + 7 * 5% = 51%) for the balance to even out. That's a 28-year process under "ideal" circumstances.

That's not to say gender bias didn't contribute to arriving at a predominantly-male incumbency, but the nature of Congressional politics imply the "resistance" to change is as much institutional as it is prejudicial.

"women want all of the benefits they already enjoy in virtue of being women (free drinks, deluge of attention until age 30, excelling in the helping professions, etc.) as well as those that men tend to enjoy in virtue of being men (greater dominance, for example). The real world doesn't work that way: it's made up of trade-offs and constraints."

Being a woman is meant to give you all that? dude, i'm missing out. Maybe I should get a bigger bra or something.