For centuries, women were not recognized for their achievements simply because of their gender. This has begun to change with women becoming more prominent in every aspect of society — including leadership roles.
During the 2016 presidential election, America saw Hillary Clinton become the first female presidential candidate of a major political party, and while she did not win, although she led the popular vote, it marked a new era where women could reasonably expect to be president.
“(Women) are now tackling leadership roles,” Bianca Easterly, assistant professor of political science, said. “Not to say that women of previous generations (haven’t done so) — we know of pioneers, but they’ve been just that, pioneers. There hasn’t been this sort of mass acceptance that women can lead and be major players — it’s been one or two women who have led the way.”
Easterly said that because of Clinton and Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, political opportunities have opened up for women.
“We see these women who are leading the way in politics and shaping politics today, and I think that’s huge in setting a new path for younger women,” she said.
According to TIME Magazine, since President Donald Trump’s election, more than 26,000 women have launched their own campaigns. Easterly said that women still face many challenges when running for office, and that societal standards for women are indicative of a larger problem.
“Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, there’s this patriarchal sort of ideal that leadership and knowledge have to be from a man,” she said. “I find that very much to be the case in higher education. Students tend to be more accepting of what my male colleagues say, and the things that I deal with in a classroom, my male colleagues don’t deal with any of that — it’s an acceptance of men leading, men teaching, men having knowledge. We’re seeing a slow shift in that but it’s still very challenging to accept women as leaders.”
Easterly said that the patriarchy’s notion of women serving in subordinate roles to men has had a detrimental effect on how women are perceived when they take on leadership roles in politics.
“There comes this notion that women have to support the men, the decision-makers, not that they can be supported by men, but that women have to support the men,” she said. “What comes with that is the disrespectful undertones, the sexual harassment and (seeing) women as objects. We still play into that.
“For example, whether or not you like Sarah Huckabee Sanders as the Press Secretary, her appearance is discussed much more than any other Press Secretary we’ve ever had. There’s still this expectation that women can’t just be knowledgeable — you can’t just be well-spoken, you have to be attractive, you have to be appealing. And it’s not just men putting that expectation, women put the same expectation on other women. So within the patriarchy, we have got to move beyond the subordinate roles of women — certainly the objectification of women as well.”
During America’s 241 years of existence, there has yet to be a female president, and compared to men, the amount of women in Congress is small. In 2016, a record number of women were elected to the Senate — four. In other nations, women have taken on leadership roles compatible with the American presidency, such as Theresa May of the United Kingdom, and Angela Merkel of Germany, who serve as Prime Minister and Chancellor respectively.
“It’s absolutely time for a female president,” Easterly said. “We’re prime for change. We’re seeing women function in these leadership roles around the world, and as a progressive, advanced nation — at least as we’d like to believe we are. This is certainly the next direction — if we are as evolved as we’d like to be and really contend with the rest of the world, we can no longer cling to the status-quo.
“We will continually be behind as a superpower, and perhaps no longer be identified as a superpower, if we continue doing the same things we’ve been doing. That includes having the same leadership, the same ideas, the same policies. Not to say that if we elect a woman it’s all going to be this new progressive kind of stuff, but what it will bring is a different perspective.
“The way a woman sees the world is not the way a man sees the world. So, I think it’s time, not only for a female president, but for an Asian president or a Latino president — it’s time for us to change the way we have been doing things in this country if we want to compete with the rest of the world.”
Easterly said that prominent political figures like Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Maxine Waters encourage other women to run for office because of representation.
“There is an area of focus in political science called descriptive representation and how important it is for certain populations to see people who look like them,” she said. “The literature on women in politics in political science certainly speaks about the importance of women seeing other women in politics, and it helps to see other people who look like you, who you can identify with in some kind of way, and are doing the things that you want to do — it makes it easier.”
Easterly said that women who feel that they can affect change by running for office should do so, despite the challenges.
“Do not quiet that fire inside to help influence policy,” she said. “Don’t ignore it. We need smart, young, eager, capable people who want to solve all of these social problems. We need new ideas.”
Story by Olivia Malick, UP staff writer