What’s the holdup getting more girls excited about running for political office?
It’s a boys’ game, say most tweens and teens, according to a new study by the Girl Scouts of America.
Girls Running for Change, found that although the majority of girls felt they are smart enough for a political career (84 percent) and are generally interested in politics, only a low percentage of them believe society is behind them when it comes to pursuing a run for office (just 32 percent).
But this is 2014. Parents, aren’t you encouraging your girls to get involved in student governments? Didn’t you tell your daughter she should consider congresswoman, senator or president as a career? I polled my own 6-year-old daughter asking, “Would you like to be president some day?” Her answer was, “Can a lady really be president?” Sigh.
But it isn’t just parents’ fault. Teachers, who are with kids for a large part of each weekday, don’t seem to be stepping up either or at least girls aren’t getting the message. Just 38 percent of the 1,088 girls polled said they had received encouragement from a teacher to run for office. Many of the girls (57 percent) felt that schools overall could offer more programs to support and teach girls about politics.
What else would help? More than not, girls say a word or two of support from female politicians would give them confidence to get them on their political way. “Sixty-five percent of girls feel more mentoring for girls and young women from current politicians would encourage more girls to pursue a career in politics.”
This might be one of the most important factors considering of the 1,088 polled, 74 percent felt that even if they made it into politics, they would, “Have to work harder than a man to be taken seriously.” Not that working harder would do much good in the media’s eyes, according to the girls. Sixty-two percent of the girls believe that female politicians are depicted by the media as, “more motivated by their emotions” than male politicians.
The frustrating part for those that want to see more women in politics, is that most girls are motivated to make change, with 93 percent involved in some sort of political, civic, or leadership activity. But for those girls, student government is the least popular. Girls don’t seem to see politics as a successful path for them to make a difference. And it is no wonder, if they also believe society and the media aren’t there to support them.
And while the good news is the majority of girls see female and male politicians as equal in most qualities, there is still a significant portion that do not. “Female and male politicians are seen by girls as equally capable (81%), intelligent (80%), confident (72%), brave (71%), resilient (71%), competent as a leader (71%), likely to make a difference in the world (69%), visionary (66%), and honest/trustworthy (60%). Starting out thinking your not as good will make it tough to overcome the rest of the obstacles.
What is the takeaway from all this? No one person or group is to blame for how few women are running for political office today. It might actually be easier if there was one place to point. What is important to note is that girls are getting discouraged early on (the girls polled were ages 11-17) and don’t ever seem to come back to it as an option. Maybe tonight talk to your daughters, granddaughters, and nieces about how they can be president too. And have the poster board and markers on hand just in case they go for it.
Note from study: The national sample consists of Girl Scouts and non-Girl Scouts. Racial/ethnic breakdown is as follows: 62% White, 19% Hispanic, 18% African American, 7% Asian, and 2% “Other”.
AWBF does not endorse any specific organizations nor research.
By Suzette McLoone Lohmeyer