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Microaggressions contribute to under-representation of females in PA politics

U.S. Rep Allyson Schwartz (Dem 13th District) announces candidacy becoming fourth Democrat on the list for PA governor
Photo by Thos Robinson

2014 might be the year for women in politics. Today, April 8 is national equal pay day which was created in 1996 by the National Committee on Pay Equity (NCPE) to increase public awareness about the disparity in earnings between the genders. According to TIME Magazine, President Obama will honor the event by signing two executive orders today: one, prohibiting federal contractors from retaliating against employees who discuss their salaries, and two, extending the statute of limitations for equal pay claims. In his Presidential Proclamation that was published yesterday, Barack Obama acknowledged the disparity that continues to exist between the genders whereas women earn on average 23 cents less than men and women of color earning even less. As it was reported by the Associated Press in MSN News, at tomorrow's meeting in the Senate, legislation involving employees fling civil suits for gender discrimination involving wages will most likely be put to vote. The bill which is also known as the Paycheck Fairness Act was sponsored by Senator Barbara Mikulski (Dem- MD) and might not go any father than the vote. Expecting that Republicans in the Senate will block the legislation just as they did in 2010 and 2012, this propelled the President to take matters into his own hands through the Executive branch.

Signing the Lily Ledbetter Pay Act and establishing the Equal Pay Task force, President Obama asserts his commitment to narrowing the gap in gender equality. On their face, those actions seem to be motivated for altruistic purposes, but it is important to keep in mind that this is an election year and the President is still a politician who works for the overall good of his political party. In addition to the President's push to raise the minimum wage, gender equality in wages is not only about fairness but also an attempt to court middle-class and single-female voters for the November general election where 33 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate are up for re-election. Although Mikulski is not running a re-election campaign as Maryland is not one of the states on this list for this year, she is supporting her political parties' initiative as a politician and as a female where gender is still disproportionately under-represented. According to an article that ran earlier this year in Trib Live News, the representation of females in Pennsylvania politics is not comparative to their overall numbers in demographics throughout the state. While about 52% of state's population is comprised of females, women continue to be the minority of elected officials. Although Pennsylvania made strides in electing Kathleen Kane as the first female attorney general, a woman has never been elected to the state's higher offices as governor or U.S. senator. Only one of the 18 congressional seats is filled by a female and the state Legislature is predominately composed of men who hold 83% of the seats. The state's judicial branch is no better off for females with only one female Supreme Court justice and nine out of 60 Court of Common Pleas female judges. The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University found that there are only two counties in Pennsylvania, Somerset and Venango, where women hold 60-79% of the county offices. In contrast, there are seven Pennsylvania counties; Berks, Carbon, Cumberland,Delaware, Erie, Lehigh, Westermoreland where women represent less than 19% of the elected offices. There are no counties were 80% or more of the elected officials are female.

If the Democrats have their way, the political tide will change for the genders in 2014. As far as political parties are concerned, their agendas are self-serving motivated for the good of the party. If those agendas happen to coincide with the good of the people at large, it is an even better win for them. It was announced in PennLive yesterday that U.S. Rep Allyson Schwartz (Dem- 13th District) is upping the ante in getting her name out in the media as a candidate for Pennsylvania's next governor. Schwartz is the fourth Democratic candidate whose name will appear on the ballot at the May 20th primary, and in addition to Kate McGinty, she is the second female running for the position of governor. How they will fare at the polls is to be determined. At yesterday's Pennsylvania Women's Forum panel discussion which was held at Widener School of Law, two female politicos debated the role gender plays in politics. Christine Toretti, who is the co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, who is the former president of the Women’s Campaign Fund, agreed that the reason McGinty and Schwartz are not pulling large numbers in the polls has less to do with their gender and more to do with the aggressive media campaign run by front-runner Tom Wolf. Ballotopedia shows a hypothetical distribution of Governor Corbett against the candidates at the general election along with another match-up of the Democratic candidates to see how they might fare at the primary. A Franklin & Marshall poll that was run from February 18-23, 2014 shows Wolf with 36% of the vote, Allyson Schwartz with 9%, Rob McCord with 3%, and Kate McGinty with 1%. Another 48% of the voters polled remain unsure of their selection. When the individual candidates are compared against the incumbent one to one, they all pull in percentages three to ten points higher indicating that at this point any of the Democrats could potentially fare better than Corbett.

Even though Schwartz and McGinty's chances at being elected into office as the first female governor seems unlikely at this moment, they are not out of the running. Sam Bennett, who is backing Schwartz, recalled her 2001 and 2008 campaigns and discussed the outright sexism she experienced while running for office. Toretti alleged that women share the responsibility for their disproportionate representation in elected offices saying that females are reluctant to support others of the same gender. McGinty, who is a former state secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, found it humorous when she was asked if she would was strong and tough to handle herself in Pennsylvania politics. Schwartz's position centers on bringing the right kind of leadership to the Capitol whether that person be a woman or a man. First things first for a woman is getting elected into office. Bennett drew an analogy to Hilary Clinton's 2008 run for President mentioning that the candidate was a front-runner at one point but credits gender discrimination as contributing to her loss. Doing a Google search using the terms "Hilary Clinton" and a derogatory 5 letter word for a female dog elicits a number of hits one going back to that election year where a McCain supporter referred to Clinton with that word and as far back to the infamous interview with Newt Gingrich's mother. Being called a word that rhymes with witch is an example of overt messages to marginalized individuals. More popular are the microaggressions such as the one where someone wanted to know if as a female McGinty could handle it as a female in political office. These are the intentional and unintentional slights, insults, and snubs which convey the speakers disdain for a person who is not of the dominant class. A comment from the Microaggressions project uses a microaggression which highlights a perspective about females in politics: “ 'It was Eve who ate the apple first. Would you really put Eve in charge of the whole country?' My mother when discussing female political candidates."

There is hope for females who seek political office and call for them to not give up. To get elected women must be encouraged to speak their minds and should continue to use the same avenues as any other politician would to get the word out about their campaign. Part of that involves destroying the myth that a woman cannot be as good as a man in politics. That means proving in every day roles that leadership is not reserved for one gender over another. It also involves society overall learning to change their mindset about what it means to be a female or a male. With only 42 days away from the primary, there is still time for each one of the candidates to get their message out to the voters through the media about who they are, describe their platform, and to encourage the voters to give them a chance. When it gets down to the nitty-gritty in politics and really any job for that matter, it really does not matter whether it is a man or a woman doing the job as long as the person doing the job is qualified and the right fit. Until that time happens, a little less microaggressions and more gender equality will go a long way.

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