Coming Soon: The Missing Candidates - Pacific Standard

Coming Soon: The Missing Candidates

Why are women such a minority in elected office? For none of the obvious reasons.
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Why are women such a minority in elected office? For none of the obvious reasons. We've collected five studies that will help to clear up the gender disparity in politics.

Nancy L. Cohen’s Pacific Standard story is available to subscribers—in print or digital formats—now, and will be posted online in full on Tuesday, October 28. Until then, an excerpt:

Back when we could count the number of high-level female politicians on one hand, researchers proposed that voters’ sexism, or the lack of qualified women, or the media’s biased coverage, were the culprits. One influential study done in 1990 found that “masculine” traits such as “tough” and “rational” were “considered strong prerequisites for good national and executive-level politicians.” (The authors even advised women that they would do better “if they convince[d] voters that they possess masculine traits and are competent on ‘male’ policy issues.”) We know now that these old theories don’t hold water—so why is progress toward parity moving at such a glacial pace?

Long before leaning in and the confidence code became the rage, political scientists pinned the blame on a “gender gap in political ambition,” according to political scientists Richard Fox and Jennifer Lawless. They and others say the problem is that women don’t want to run for office. Other researchers counter that we should pay less attention to individual motivation and more to the nuts and bolts of how electoral systems work.

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