Amanda Barras-Andruskiewicz is a guest blogger for #Fembot. Her tumblr The Bare Essentials is for an internship through The Leadership Community for Women (TLC) at UCR. Amanda is a fourth year (about to graduate in June!) women’s studies major at the University of California, Riverside.
As I mentioned in my last post, this blog is intended to discuss women, empowerment and leadership. One of the things that always shocks me the most is the lack of women within leadership roles here in the United States. Even though, as I said last time, women make up more than half of the world’s population, we are enormously under represented when it comes to government.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics, women currently only hold 18.5% of the seats in Congress; 20% of the seats in the Senate, and 18.2% of the seats in the House of Representatives. Those numbers are scary low, especially when you consider the ways in which women’s bodies are regulated by the government.
In the United States, the government puts laws in place that work to control what women can do with their bodies. These laws include, but are not limited to, abortion rights, contraception rights, and the birthing process. While these are such hot topics within the political sphere, how is it that there are not more women within leadership roles to speak on behalf of women? We need to get more in there! It is so strange to me that the huge majority of the politicians sitting around discussing abortion rights are male. How can they have any idea what it feels like to be pregnant? How do they know how it would feel to not have the right to choose what one can do with one’s own body? This is why we need more women representation within the larger government sphere- not just the 20% or less that exists today.
Did you also know that America is one of the only developed countries that does not mandate that women get adequate paid time off after giving birth to a child? According to an infograph from The Representation Project (therepresentationproject.org) countries such as Sweden, Croatia, Canada, the UK, China, Italy, Slovakia, France, Chile, Paraguay, Mali, and Hungary all have mandated paid leave for pregnant women and new mothers (and some have it for dads too!). I would imagine this is something that could be changed in our country if there was better representation of women within the government. There is always this question floating around about women being able to “have it all,” well how can we be expected to “have it all” without any support regarding the part that includes motherhood? The opportunities for women to succeed in this country are stifled by the laws regulating women’s lives. The lack of mandated paid leave for women who are pregnant and new mothers results in an obstacle that males do not have to face. This creates an uneven playing field and greater inequality between the sexes because women are then forced to rely financially on their male counterparts which reinforces the hierarchy. When women are forced into the unpaid common gender role of the domestic, they are again disempowered. (This is not to say that women who do not do paid work, such as a housewife or stay-at-home mom, are not empowered-they certainly should be but until we as a society value that work the same way we value paid work, they are disempowered.) This is why we need more women representation in the government!
Aside from laws regulating women’s bodies, there are also laws regarding sex trafficking, sexual assault, rape, child care and equal pay. All of these deal with women’s issues- so how can we get more representation? I think it begins with teaching our young girls that they have the ability to lead. Girls are not conditioned to be in places of power or leadership and that needs to change. We need to be raising girls to take control, be in power, and to speak up! The common discourse around women in positions of power is that they are too emotional to handle the job. This is just not true. It is true that women are not conditioned to hide their emotions, while men are, so there appears to be a difference when in fact there is not. Men are taught that emotion is a sign of weakness so they must hide it. Women are taught to be in touch with emotion and then told they are weak for doing so. Every human experiences emotion, some more than others- but it is not reliant on sex. It is something that goes hand in hand with the social conditioning of gender. So, let us just forget this whole women & emotion deal. And, if one does hold so strongly to the idea that women and their emotions are just out of control, why is that such a bad thing? If one really wants to argue that women and their emotions make them irrational, I would argue that men and their social condition to be egotistical results in irrational thinking as well. But that is beside the point.
The goal of this blog was to get you thinking about women in government. I challenge you to start conversations about the under-representation American women are dealing with within the government. Encourage those women around you who want to go into politics. And please, for the love of all humanity, stop saying things like “I am a girl, I can’t _____.” Stop blaming your gender and/or sex for the things you cannot do, it is harmful to everyone.