Record number of women in Congress still not enough

After Congress broke the record with over 100 female representatives, women state that there is still much needed improvement.

After a record number of women were voted into Congress this year, publications and news stations were quick to note the historic moment.

Women Make History in Midterm Elections - SheWired

100 Women in Congress? So What - Politico 

More than 100 Women in Congress, but not that much Growth - The Washington Post 

American women were being told to be both excited and dissatisfied by the results of the midterm elections. So, which is it?

"Women should want to be more involved in politics and to play a role in determining the future of our nation."
- Dakota Kann

The results of the 2014 midterm elections was a Republican House majority. Republicans earned 244 House seats, as opposed to Democrats, who lost with 186 seats. A Republican House majority raised a question on if a record number of women in Congress will make any difference.

“It is still a good thing. It’s important to have lots of women in office, whatever their politics, because of the role model effect,” Syracuse University political science professor Kristi Andersen said.

There were many firsts for women this recent midterm election. Mia Love was the first black Republican woman elected to Congress. Republican Joni Ernst became both the first female veteran in the U.S. Senate, and the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress. Elise Stefanik is the first 30-year-old woman to ever be elected into Congress.

Yet, despite these many firsts, critics argue that the glass ceiling for women in politics has yet to break, or even crack. 99 women held seats in Congress after the 2010 Midterm Elections. Women gained only five more seats after the previous elections after female candidates won 104 seats in Congress. This has been described by sources such as The Washington Post and Politico as too slow of  progress for women to gain equal representation in government positions.


“It’s true that it’s slow, but one of the reasons that it’s changed slowly is because there’s so much incumbency advantage," Anderson said. "There aren’t that many open seats. It’s going to be a slow process because of the structural factor of incumbency. If you had more turnovers, you would have more opportunities for women to run."

A critical change that needs to be made is the lack of women who run for public office. The Pew Research Center recently ran a poll of which Americans seek public office, and found that 2 percent of Americans have ever run for federal, local, or state elected office. From their interpretaions, the general population is broken down 51 percent to 49 percent, favoring women. However, of those candidates who run for public office, 75 percent are men vs. 25 percent are women. 


According to Peterson's college rating system, the ratio of women to men is 52 percent to 48 percent However, political science senior Dakota Kann senses her upper division political science classes to be typically “dominated by men.”

“I think there are still a lot of injustices in the United States, and I don't think they will change until they are challenged,” said Kann, who hopes to go to a law school program next year in order to enter the field of constitutional law.

Kann worked for U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer as an intern in 2013. 

“I think it's important for women to become as engaged in politics as their male counterparts are," Kann said. "Women should want to be more involved in politics and to play a role in determining the future of our nation."

Elect Her: Starting place for aspiring female politicians 

While there are many female college students involved in politics, representation of women in government, especially Congress and Senate, is drastically low. The ratio of women in the House still only reaches roughly 20 percent.

Elect Her, a program created by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), visited SU on Nov. 15 to encourage more young women to run for leadership positions. Elect Her is a one-day training program, involving campus administrators, students, local AAUW members, and speakers to educate young women about what skills they need to successfully run for leadership positions. Its mission is that it “addresses the need to expand the pipeline to women running for office and diminish the longstanding political leadership gender gap.”

“There were a lot of women, and two men, who were really inspired by the conference, so hopefully this helps and we can see a change in voter turnout, and who’s running for office,” said senior Adrianna Kam, who along with fellow student Allie Curtis, was awarded the Fast Forward grant to bring Elect Her to Syracuse.

The Elect Her event at Syracuse consisted of four exercises beginning with a speech from Kate C. Farrar, the vice president of AAUW Campus Leadership Programs and facilitator of the conference. 

“(Farrar) focused on why there are so few women in politics and brought up the idea that the problem isn’t that women aren’t getting elected it’s that they’re not running,” Kam said, adding that the average woman is asked seven times before agreeing to run for a political position.

Andeersen suggested that careers in politics are not normally consider by young women.

“They’re much less likely to think of themselves as qualified, even though they are," Andersen said. "They say when they were growing up that it wasn’t a career path that was encouraged."


Also, Farrar discussed the media’s role during a woman’s campaign for political office. There has been a recurring trend of undermining a female’s ability to hold a political position. According to studies done by Political Research Quarterly, when solely male candidates were running, articles tended to focus on character traits in 6 percent of articles, and political issues 55.5 percent. On the other hand, articles about female candidates focused on character traits 9.4 percent of the time, and political issues 51.7 percent.

Other exercises included what the Elect Her conference deemed an “elevator speech,” in which participants formulated a speech about why they felt they should run for a position in an environment where they would not have much time. “They picked a position and an issue they wanted to fix and why, and their solution,” Kam said.

Another conference speaker was Diane Dwire, who ran against Gary Finch for New York State 126th District Assembly, which represesents parts of Cayuga, Onondaga, Cortland, and Chenango. Dwire did not win the position.  

“She spoke a lot about the campaign itself, and how she wants to run again regardless,” Kam said. “She’s not going to quit.”

Fellow conference speakers Jean Kessner and Kathleen Joy from the Syracuse Common Council spoke about running for positions, and positive campaigning. All of the speakers answered questions that the students had, along with a student panel that consisted of members of the SU Student Association

The conference ended with a mock election, in which the students were broken into four sections based on issues the groups wanted address. The “candidates” gave their elevator speeches, and were voted on based on campaigning strategies.

“There were so many girls at the end of it … who said, ‘Wow, this is really inspirational, I want to run for president, or I want to work on a campaign team for student body.’ That was exactly what we wanted,” Kam said.

Above all, vote

Andersen and members of Elect Her agree that the most important aspect of getting more women into political positions like Congress is voting.

According to the Center of American Women and Politics, on average, more women than men vote. In 2012, 63.7 percent of American women reported voting, as oppoed to 59.8 percent of men. However, there is still a good number of women who skip Election Day, especially during the midterm elections.

“Voting is a habit, obviously, and you want to have people habituate to voting," Andersen said. "If you have more women in office, you have higher turnout in those places. In general, having more women in office increases more turnout for women.”


While the next major election is not until the presidential election in 2016, there are ways to improve the stigma of females in politics. Campaigns such as “Ban Bossy,” an organization created by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and publicly endorsed by Beyoncé, work to end the negative stigma against powerful and driven women, particularly in political environments. Other ways to further improve is to simply remain aware of political leaders’ platforms and local elections.

“One of the most important things I learned was that politicians actually do care what people think," Kann said. "Every phone call we receive or letter addressed to us in the mail we record their messages and pass them on to the Senator in Washington."

The glass ceiling is still a harsh reality, but with the recent efforts to further involve women in politics, and the publicized record of women voted into Congress, women can at least start to form a crack. 

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