Women appear underrepresented in campus politics

by Jenna Farleigh | 11/21/03 6:00am

Students interested in the Democratic primary took part in a mock primary debate in late September that drew attention for a reason that had nothing to do with what they said. Students debated from the viewpoints of all of the candidates for the presidential nomination -- yet all of the participating debaters and the moderator were men. The lack of women at the debate touched off a well of controversy about the lack of female representation in campus political groups and discussions.

Indeed, an investigation by The Dartmouth found that there do seem to be fewer females than males participating in political groups on campus. For example, at the most recent meeting of Politalk, a Rockefeller Center group devoted to political discussion, there were eight women and 15 men. According to Susan Napier '04, the Politalk director, this is the usual ratio.

Men outnumber women in the government department as well. Of the 268 declared government majors, 113 are female, according to the department. Additionally, out of the 21 '04 honors majors, six are female.

Other Rockefeller Programs and campus political publications have noticed a lack of female involvement. The AGORA program, which holds weekly meetings to discuss political topics, generally receives a primarily male crowd.

The Dartmouth Review and the Free Press, according to female staffers at those publications, both have more male contributors. The Dartmouth Review has about 15 male and six female major contributors, according to several staffers. The Free Press has four women and six men on its editorial board.

"In each political organization, there are definitely more men involved," said AGORA Program Director Echo Brown '06. "There have been a couple of times we have had, like, a sausage fest."

However, men may view the problem differently than women. Phil Peisch '04, Napier's co-director at Politalk, did not notice the disparity between male and female participation at his group.

He said that students at Politalk seemed to be evenly split between men and women. Napier said that, as a man, Peisch may not see the problem, though she is sure he is concerned about the issue.

Some Rockefeller Center interns said that social issues seem to attract more women to political discussions.

"More women tend not to come to hard political debates. Women tend to come more to topics regarding social issues," Brown said. At AGORA, she said, more females have turned out this term for topics such as abortion and affirmative action than for topics relating to foreign policy.

Everyone interviewed by The Dartmouth gave a different reason why women on campus seem to be less active in politics than men.

Some believe that low female involvement in politics simply mirrors the disproportionately low numbers of women in governmental bodies like the U. S. Congress or the Supreme Court. But most of those contacted said that women are simply intimidated by the male majority in campus political groups.

"Women tend to view the political sphere as belonging to men and are intimidated by that," Brown said.

Ana Catalano '06, the Women in Leadership Group program director, supported this idea. "Women tend to think they have to be more qualified than they actually do" to speak out in class or run for campus political offices, she said.

Politically active males may also be partly to blame for the absence of women in political organizations. "Girls get shut down by guys who dominate discussion," Brown said.

The Women in Leadership Program, which gives its primary objective as the encouragement of female participation in politics, has also experienced some male hostility.

Catalano said that though the majority of males were supportive of the group, some males have also been critical or even hostile. For example, Jesse Jacobson '04 entered a Women in Leadership meeting last week and was being rude and disruptive, according to Catalano. When asked to leave, he replied, "Oh, sorry. I just thought it was a bunch of women whining."

Although Jacobson confirmed making the comment, he said that he intended no harm and that the comment was misunderstood. Catalano, however, was saddened by this reply, and said she felt it was precisely this sort of response that discourages women from becoming active in politics.

Campus web logs have also experienced some upheaval lately due to perceived male hostility. Two women created the Lady Likely blog in response to what one founder, Sarah Morton '05 described as hostility, mostly from men, to her posts on other blogs. The site describes itself in its "About" section as a place where "feminist ladies and gents take on pop culture, progressive politics and a little bit of everything else."

Neither founder of the site could be reached for comment.

Although it was not the most popular explanation, some women also attributed the difference in participation by saying that men are naturally more confident and so assume leadership positions.

Women felt that these men may not always be aware that their confidence scares women off. "Somehow women can be intimidated," said Brown. "There is still very much a glass ceiling."

All the students contacted by The Dartmouth were optimistic that this trend is beginning to change.

Review writer Amanda Morris '06 said that "women in all three branches of government already hold some of the most important positions. It will just take time."

"I feel that women are no less active and no less politically aware. It is just that men currently dominate voicing their views," said Rose McClendon '06, the associate editor of the Free Press.

"Women have a responsibility to get in there. We have just as much to contribute," Catalano added.