Life's a Party: Do Political Parties Help or Hinder Women? by ProQuest


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                        Life’s a Party
                        Do Political Parties Help or Hinder Women?
                                                                                                  Kira sanbonmatsu
e n g e n d e r i n g

                                               hen we think about the scarcity
                                               of female politicians, social and           Kira sanbonmatsu is senior scholar at
                                               cultural explanations usually               the Center for american Women and Politics
                                               come to mind. We think about                (CaWP) at the Eagleton institute of Politics
                                               the constraints of traditional              and associate Professor of Political science at
                        gender roles, inequalities in women’s socioeconomic                rutgers university.
                        status, and the dearth of women candidates. In other
                        words, we tend to think about candidate supply. In
                        doing so, we often neglect the demand for women                  candidates and discourage candidates from running.
                        candidates. But we need to ask: are political parties                Too often, political parties have been an obstacle that
                        recruiting, nominating, and supporting women                     women must overcome. But the US case suggests that
                        candidates?                                                      women’s organizations and movements, women leaders,
                             Because of their role in candidate selection, parties are   and women voters are the keys to making parties a help
                        crucial to women’s election to office. Parties are particu-      rather than a hindrance to women’s representation.
                        larly important in closed-list proportional representation
                        systems. But parties matter even in countries with com-          Women and Political Parties in the United States
                        paratively weak political parties such as the United States.         The feminist scholar Jo Freeman has characterized
                        A focus on the United States is instructive for this reason.     women’s inclusion in US parties as a long struggle for
                        The existence of primaries in the United States can curtail      recognition—a story not unlike that of women around
                        a party’s ability to control the nomination, particularly        the world. Historically, the major parties were obstacles to
                        if the party remains neutral during the primary contest.         women’s advancement in US politics. The opposition of
                        Yet even in the United States, parties recruit and endorse       both the major parties—the Republicans and Democrats—

                         36   H A R v A R D I n T e R n A T I o n A l R e v I e W • Spring 2010

                                                                                                                                  Do PolitiCal PartiEs hElP or hinDEr WomEn?
to women’s suffrage helps explain why the fight for suffrage      much more likely than their male colleagues to have run
was such a long one. Women’s rights activists called for          for office the very first time because they were recruited
the vote in 1848, and over the next half century, women           and much less likely to be self-starters who said that the
were gradually able to win voting rights in some states.          decision to run was entirely their idea. Both women and
But it would not be until 1920 that women as a class would        men identified a party leader as the single most influential
achieve the vote. on the eve of women’s enfranchisement,          source of recruitment for this very first candidacy. We also
both parties became interested in winning women’s votes           find that women legislators were more likely than men to
and worked to incorporate women into party committees.            say that recruitment was the primary reason they sought
But neither party sought to elect women to office, and            their current state legislative office. For example, 24 per-
women did not wield significant influence within either           cent of women state
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