I received a number of interesting responses to last week’s post about how women are faring in Rhode Island politics. The issue is clearly on the minds of a lot of people out there.
I asked Eyewitness News analyst Arlene Violet, who Rhode Islanders chose back in 1984 as the nation’s first female attorney general, for her thoughts on the issue. Here’s what she had to say:
Obstacles for women in politics are both self-made and externally made. Many studies, including a recent analysis from Rutgers University [pdf], conclude that women are much more likely to think they might not be qualified for a position, whereas men normally assume they can do the job. Self-assessment, therefore, may preclude a woman from running for office.
While all candidates dislike asking for money for the campaign, women, I think, have an unconscious bias. Asking for money has an unsavory subtext historically for women. Cultural norms still inhibit folks from contributing to women. For example, in a dual college-educated household, if money is going to be sent to an alma mater, it is more likely that the male’s college will get the family donation rather than the woman’s.
While this is changing with more women earning their own money, there still is a cultural lag and this impacts women’s ability to raise money. Typically, women don’t have the same “old boy” network where they can meet potential contributors like country clubs, out on the golf course, etc., since they normally are still primarily doing the bulk of work at home as well as at their workplaces. Again, this is changing, but still a little too slowly.
Two correspondents also pointed me to a new initiative by the Women’s Fund of Rhode Island called the Rhode Island Government Appointments Project, or RI-GAP. (It’s modeled after a similar initiative in Massachusetts.)
The statistics cited by Marcia Coné, the Women’s Fund’s executive director, are striking. Women make up 52% of the U.S. population. Nationally, they hold 31% of state cabinet and high-level government positions. But in Rhode Island, they hold only 15% – half the national average.
RI-GAP’s steering committee plans to encourage the next governor to make sure women make up at least 30% of his appointees. And he sure will have a lot of people to appoint, judging by this list RI-GAP’s organizers put together.
(image credit: Bakersfield College)