Why Women Make Better Politicians
Women are still greatly underrepresented in elected office—even though new research shows they may be more effective politicians than their male counterparts.
Ninety years after the 19th Amendment guaranteed their participation in American politics, women are still greatly underrepresented in elected office—even though new research shows they may be more effective politicians than their male counterparts. According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, women currently hold:
But an ongoing study by Sarah Anzia at Stanford University and Christopher Berry at the University of Chicago has found that districts served by women legislators are at a distinct advantage over those represented by men: U.S. congresswomen bring home roughly 9 percent more discretionary spending than congressmen. As a result, districts that elect women to the House of Representatives receive, on average, about $49 million more each year. The report finds that bringing home more federal dollars and benefits doesn't hurt women legislators' performance in policy-making—congresswomen sponsor more bills and obtain more co-sponsorships for their legislation than their male colleagues do.
This difference in performance between female and male legislators may be a result, in part, of the plain fact that it is more difficult for women to get elected. Titled the "The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect," the report finds higher performance amid persistent bias has a systematic effect on who reaches the highest level—and on what they do while they're there. Jackie Robinson was one of the greatest baseball players of his day not because he was African-American, but rather because the discriminatory bias against African-Americans in baseball meant higher-level talent was needed to break those bias barriers.
"If voters are biased against female candidates, only the most talented, hardest working female candidates will succeed in the electoral process," Anzia and Berry write. On top of that, "if women perceive there to be sex discrimination in the electoral process, or if they underestimate their qualifications for office relative to men, then only the most qualified, politically ambitious females will emerge as candidates." It doesn't matter whether the sex-based selection is from actual or perceived, active or passive, origins, the report finds that "women who are elected to office will perform better, on average, than their male counterpart."
Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland, attributes this difference to the fact that women are more collaborative. She tells Big Think that "women are actually more inclined towards that more modern leadership, which is collaborative problem-solving, enabling, consultative, not just trying to assert a kind of hierarchical power." Men may also employ this sort of leadership, but it is distinctly feminine, she says.
Robinson is living proof that this feminine style of leadership can be both effective and popular. Halfway through her term as president, she had an unprecedented approval rating of 93%. She achieved this not by playing down her femininity but by embracing it. "When I was elected President of Ireland, I was determined to show that I brought to it the fact that I was a woman and was going to do it with various skills and I felt that they were enabling, problem solving, being more inclined not so much to want to lead in a kind of a natural way, but rather to lead by discussion and empowerment of others—to lead by example, lead by nurturing." But there is still a double standard for women politicians, she says. "If men are bold and assertive, that’s admired. If women are, it’s called shrill."
And if there is one rule in politics, it is that action is less important than perception. But here things get complicated for female politicians in general. In terms of individual leadership traits, women are perceived to possess more of these traits than men, but that doesn't translate to being perceived as better overall leaders. In a 2008 Pew Research Center survey of eight important leadership traits, women outperformed men on five and tie on two. Americans ranked women higher in honesty, intelligence, compassion, creativity, and outgoingness—by as much as 75 percent. And in the qualities of hard work and ambition, men and women tied, according to the survey. The only quality in which men scored higher than women is decisiveness, in which men and women were separated by a mere 11 percentage points. Yet when asked the single question if men or women make better leaders, the results seemed to contradict these other findings: a mere 6 percent of the 2,250 adults surveyed say women make better political leaders than men, with 21 percent favoring men and 69 percent saying the sexes are equal in this area, which explains the report's subtitle, "A Paradox in Public Attitudes."
So what accounts for this perceptual paradox? Politics professor Michele Swers of Georgetown University tells Big Think that it's not simply a matter of if women are more effective legislators; party politics plays an essential role in who gets elected. “If you look at how people react to candidates, there are certain stereotypes that people have in their mind about what’s a women’s issue and what’s not a women’s issue, so you may be more likely to prefer a female candidate if what’s on your mind are issues like health care and education, for example,” she says. "However, when I’m in the voting booth, I’m voting for the Republican or I’m voting for the Democrat, so those gender stereotypes interact with that type of thing as well,” she adds.
A female Republican candidate, for example, might sway a voter by being Republican or by being female, and for following the policies perceived to be favored by either, Swers explains. Essentially, more women are elected to the highest ranks in politics when more are candidates from prominent political parties. The difficulty lies in producing a political system, both in the U.S. and around the world, that accomplishes this.
— Anzia and Berry, "The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson Effect: Why Do Congresswomen Outperform Congressmen?"
— Pew Research Center, "Men or Women: Who’s the Better Leader: A Paradox in Public Attitudes?"
— Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
— Big Think interview with Nancy Pelosi, Representative (D-California); Speaker of the House
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If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
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