Why Is Congress 80 Percent Men?

For more than 200 years, our Democratic and Republican presidential nominees have been men. Hillary Clinton recently became the first female politician in history to break that pattern.

While some would like to latch onto Clinton’s nomination as a sign that sexism in politics is over, we are so far away from actual gender parity in government. Yes, we have Jill Stein helming the Green Party ticket. Yes, New Hampshire elected an all-female delegation back in 2012. (It’s since gotten a male representative.)

Still, at the same time, 80 percent of Congress is male, while only half of the U.S. population is. Our numbers were actually better 20 years ago. Not to mention, some states — Mississippi, Delaware and Vermont — still have never even elected a female representative.

Furthermore, the United States lags behind countries including Afghanistan and Pakistan in terms of gender representation in government.

We can point at individual leaders to deny the inequality. Sadly, they are atypical. We should start questioning how we treat men as default leaders, and women as exceptions.

Vox recently wrote a story on why so few women are in Congress. Economist Hannah Hartmann told the reporter that at the current rate we’re going, the U.S. will take 100 more years to get an equal share of women in Congress.

The reasons why our seemingly progressive country is slow to change are complicated.

First of all, as Vox notes, women are less likely to run for office, and even when they do, they are 15 times more likely than their male counterparts to be providing childcare at the same time.

Name recognition of established candidates also plays a role. According to Vox, 89 percent of House members run for reelection, and nearly all of those incumbents win their elections.

When most of them happen to be men who serve an average of 10 years in office, no wonder women struggle to break in. A total of 14 states have all-male delegations, in fact.

When New Hampshire elected an all-female delegation four years ago, news networks lauded the state as a “matriarchy,” playing into the novelty that electing a majority of women actually is.

The New York Times attributed its historical inclusion of women in politics to several factors. First, The New York Times accredits the size of the state House, which is the largest in the United States with 400 members.

The high number of seats provides women more of a chance to hold office and use that to “springboard” into a representative position.

The Times also pointed to New Hampshire’s meager salary for its representatives, which is the second lowest of all states at $100k a year.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen attributed the state’s apparent acceptance of female leadership to less tangible factors.

“It really speaks to voters in New Hampshire and their ability to make decisions regardless of gender,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, as quoted on NPR.

Meanwhile, women in 2016 still struggle. Sadly, not much has changed.