A new report is reiterating an already obvious fact: It’s hard to be a woman in Washington, D.C.
Researchers at the Center for American Women in Politics and Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University interviewed 83 out of 108 women serving in the 2015-2016 Congress about how they view their roles as lawmakers and role models through the lens of their gender. In responding, some female policymakers shared especially frank feedback.
Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine) commented on how women must meet a higher bar than their male counterparts:
“My experience has been, and sadly I think this is still true today, that when a woman is elected to the Senate, she still has to prove that she belongs there, whereas when a man is elected to the Senate, it’s assumed that he belongs here. I will say once you pass that first test … then you’re a member of the club. But I think there still is a barrier that men don’t face, and I think that’s true of Democratic women as well as Republican women.”
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D–Wis.) remarked on how looks matter more for female politicians:
“They still are more judgmental about women’s appearance than male appearance, [and these comments] are still … in abundant supply.”
And Rep. Kathleen Rice (D–N.Y.) said gender is seen as limiting the scope of a female lawmaker’s work:
“I think the biggest challenge for a woman is not to be kind of painted into a corner of, okay, so you’re a woman, so you can care about these issues that are women’s issues.”
It’s important to note that these interviews took place before the election of President Donald Trump, and it’s safe to assume that the climate has not improved under a commander-in-chief who has derided women as “crazy” and responded to their criticism of him by insulting their looks.
But there is a positive message in the report; that despite the challenges they face, the lawmakers feel as though their unique perspectives have helped shape policy so it serves women as well as men.
“I believe that women look at issues differently than men do, and that’s just the way we are,” said Rep. Diane Black (R–Tenn.) “We come at things in a different way, and since 52% of the population is female, it behooves us to make sure that we have a voice, a woman’s voice in the discussions.”
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