The theme of this year’s Gender Week was Gender and Politics. This is a topic that I am really interested in, and I am even doing my senior thesis about it. So, when it was announced that the keynote speaker for the week would be Dr. Kira Sanbonmatsu from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, I was very excited. The Center for American Women and Politics is one of the top research centers for information about women in U.S. politics. Dr. Sanbonmatsu researches and teaches in this field of study, and she came to speak with us about her research and most recent book, A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Presence Matters.
We need more women and other marginalized groups in politics; that much is clear. However, not many people care enough about this issue to do much about it. Dr. Sanbonmatsu’s research gives insight into why women in Congress think it is so important that they get elected, which translates into why we should all care to work on electing more women to political office.
In her presentation during the Clarke Forum event, Dr. Sanbonmatsu presented basic data about the underrepresentation of women in politics. She then went on to explain the research done for her most recent book, for which she and her co-author interviewed 77% of the women in the 114th Congress. One of their main findings was that these congresswomen felt it is necessary to have women in those positions because women as a group have different lived experiences than the majority of members of Congress, who are white men. She adds that many of the congresswomen pointed to the fact that there are subgroups of women, which is important to recognize when talking about representation, and that having all of those perspectives in Congress is necessary for good governance.
Another interesting and extremely important finding that Dr. Sanbonmatsu emphasized was that some of the women interviewed stated that women in politics are more focused on solving problems and making change than on becoming a career politician or fixing short term problems. I think this is integral to our understanding of elections and politics. The problem of career politicians is often one of the root causes of gridlock and lack of action in Congress. If it is true that women are less likely to care about their career and re-election and more likely to care about fixing the problems that they ran for, getting more women into office is not only important for the representative part of our American “representative democracy,” but also for the democracy part of it.
While this is not the extent of what she shared with us, I think these points are important ones to highlight. The overall theme of the presentation was that it is essential to get more women elected, not just for representation but also for getting real change made. I would recommend Dr. Sanbonmatsu’s book and research to everyone, as it is necessary to understand why women need to be in politics to better advocate for more women to be there.
Written by Sophie Ackert ’21, WGRC student worker
March 25, 2021