The women are coming?

More than half of the state’s population is female, yet women hold less than 25 percent of legislative seats in Iowa. While we have seen a trend of female lieutenant governors, no woman has been elected to live in Terrace Hill or to serve on behalf of Iowans in Congress.

Yet if we are to believe the latest research on why women are underrepresented at each level of government, blame for the gap falls primarily on the shoulders of women themselves.

Once a woman takes the plunge into politics, she is statistically just as likely as any male counterpart to emerge victorious. The reason more women don’t serve, researchers say, is because most stand on the diving platform and refuse to jump.

According to a 2013 research study, there are three basic reasons women are less politically ambitious:

  • Women don’t consider themselves qualified, even when they are.
  • Women often give into self-doubt.
  • Even women within political circles are far less likely than men to be asked to run.

Many women believe they won’t receive fair treatment from voters, donors or the media. And while that perception may be based in fact when a women is seeking the highest offices, it does not hold true for local, regional and state contests.

But what if 20-25 percent is the most representation women will ever have? Should anyone care?

“Women … remain really good examples of how lawmakers on either side of the aisle can cooperate,” Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at ISU, told listeners of Iowa Public Radio’s River to River this week, noting the successful efforts by women in the U.S. Senate to end the government shutdown.

Amy Kobuchar
Amy Klobuchar

“Last year, in the Iowa Legislature, it was Amanda Ragan, a Democrat, and Linda Upmeyer, a Republican and House Majority Leader, who basically hammered out a deal between the Democrats and Gov. [Terry] Branstad on the extension of Medicaid,” Bystrom added.

Speaking as part of an UI Public Policy Center forum on women in politics Friday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., agreed with Bystrom’s assessment. “I truly believe that women make some of the best leaders, and that’s because we focus on results. As someone once said, women ‘speak softly and carry a big statistic.’ I don’t agree with the speak softly part, but I can tell you that the women I work with in the Senate are some of the most effective legislators I know.”

Women lawmakers, she added, don’t just see abstract problems, but can place issues within the context of daily life.

“I believe we can do it,” Klobuchar said. “We can bridge divides, reach across the aisle and solve some of the biggest issues our country faces. And by that, I don’t mean standing by yourself in a corner, talking all night to the C-SPAN cameras. I mean going to those 75 pancake breakfasts and knocking on those thousands of doors. I mean standing next to someone you don’t always agree with for the betterment of this country.”

Perhaps when the nation finally grows tired of partisan bickering and political standoffs, women will fully recognize their true value in the process.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on April 19, 2014. Photo credit: Official Photo