Date of Award

6-2008

Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Political Science

Language

English

Keywords

women, politics, history, France, U.S., elections

Abstract

Women’s political participation is a dynamic subject, constantly evolving and advancing with the progression of society. Through determination, sacrifice and change in social perceptions, women have slowly achieved success in the formidable arena of politics in both the U.S. and France. Historically, women have faced a powerful barrier of masculinity that dominates politics and society, improving their situation through slow but essential changes. Thus far, women have achieved significant political accomplishments, overcoming obstacles and reaching some of the highest positions in government. This continual progress is illustrated through the success of Segolene Royal in France and Hillary Clinton in the U.S.; each has defied the intrinsic barriers of their political systems to gain political equality. Both renowned female politicians, they demonstrate that it is not impossible for a woman to be a viable presidential candidate: Royal through her successful Parti Socialiste presidential nomination and Clinton through her success and popularity in the primary elections.

Today, studies show that women and men are almost equal in their political participation levels; there are more registered female voters, and they vote at the same rates as men (Lawless and Fox 2005, 40; Allwood and Wadia 2000, 116). Despite their apparent political activity, women’s representation and desire to run is still less than men’s; women comprise only 14.9% of Congress and 16.9% of the French Senate. Therefore, in this thesis I explore the gender disparity to ask why women lack a presence in the political world of both the U.S. and France. I investigate female candidates’ experiences to discover the obstacles they are continually confronted with, perpetuating

their absence. I also seek to find any similarities and differences between the two systems to reveal these barriers and perhaps demonstrate ways to improve women’s experience in the future. Progress necessitates an understanding of each system because the successful methods can be shared and used. These barriers to women that result in the lack of their equal representation in politics must be discussed; the women’s movement for political equality still has considerable ground to cover. Through my research, I hope to expose the realities of preconceived gender stereotypes, thus illustrating women’s situation in politics and the possibility of future advancements. By addressing the historical and current political environments of each system, I will examine women’s experience at each level of their candidacy to expose the reoccurring obstacles they encounter. I identify four main themes inhibiting women’s success in politics: women’s lack of personal ambition, the political and electoral systems, the cultural stereotypes of each society and the media that perpetuates these outdated beliefs. These impediments combined create serious obstacles to women in politics today. However, with a determined effort and the circumstantial help to advance in politics, some women succeed; such is the case with Segolene Royal and Hillary Clinton. Regardless of their success or failure in a presidential candidacy, these women have achieved a political stature that few can boast. Using these two successful women politicians, I personalize the political experience to isolate these obstacles. By examining their lives and political ascension, I question whether these two women have dealt with the reoccurring barriers and to what extent these barriers oppress them. Finally, I compare and contrast their political experiences to expose what factors helped and hindered them, thus prescribing what could help women in the future. By researching and comparing women in politics in the U.S. and France, I found that these four obstacles do form a redoubtable barrier, restraining women’s access to politics and perpetuating a masculine-dominated system. Many authors cite women’s ambition, or lack thereof, as one of the largest problems; they are often less likely to consider running and are deterred by a lack of confidence in their qualifications. Historically masculine, political and electoral systems inadvertently discourage women from running and perpetuate traditional gender roles. Political elites, who are often male, tend to nurture potential candidates who are also male, positioning them for incumbency while dissuading women from these positions. Cultural stereotypes that portray women in traditional domestic roles and their inability to manage political power like men produce an image of women as outsiders. Women must live up to higher standards to conform to the ‘male experience,’ which is considered the neutral standard in both societies. These stereotypes are perpetuated by the media and consequently encourage the public’s gendered opinion of a candidate. Many authors cite the media’s focus on women’s appearance instead of their policies. Women also receive less coverage overall. The media also presents women with a difficult dichotomy: they must illustrate their femininity while being masculine enough to prove they can be as politically successful as men.

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