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As we grow closer to breaking the glass ceiling for women in politics, there are still many barriers that women face when it comes to running for office or voicing their opinions.


For the past few years, Americans have elected record numbers of women to office. In 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the house. In 2008, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin became the first woman to be on a Republican presidential ticket. Eight years later, Hillary Clinton became the first female major-party presidential nominee.

As we grow closer to breaking the glass ceiling for women in politics, there are still many barriers that women face when it comes to running for office or voicing their opinions. Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris is just one example of how women are being attacked not because of their qualifications or skills, but her personality and identity.

Harris, a current California senator, has been the target of sexist and racist remarks as she seeks to become the first woman as well as the first Black person and the first Indian American to serve as vice president. After Joe Biden announced that Harris was his choice for his vice presidential nominee, President Donald J. Trump immediately called her “nasty,” a word that he has used to denounce the women who publicly criticize him.

As more women run for political positions, they face double standards and are forced to work harder than their male counterparts.

Cayla Schneider, 2007 Wartburg alum, worked as a field organizer for Hillary Clinton following graduation. This experience drove her to run for state representative in 2008.

“When you’re talking and meeting with all these people, going around and being in the thick of things, it’s very grassroots,” Schneider said. “You’re hearing their stories and you’re hearing what is important to them and you want to make a difference. I always knew that I wanted to make a difference and help people.”

Although Schneider said she believes she was treated differently while running for office because she is a woman, she also felt that women are treated differently across the board in many other careers and leadership positions.

When Schneider ran for office, she was 23 years old and, at the time, the youngest female to run for a public office in Iowa. Although her opponent was only a couple years older than her, he was the grandson of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley. The race became an uphill battle for Schneider.

“I wasn’t going to put my name on the ticket unless I was going to work hard,” Schneider said.

According to the Pew Research Center, women are generally more inclined than men to see higher expectations, voter hesitation and lack of institutional support as major obstacles to female political leadership. Additionally, 47% of women believe women who run for office are held to higher standards and have to do more to prove themselves.

Ann Rathe, Waverly city councilperson and an at-large representative, has been exposed to politics from a very young age, as both her parents were politically active. Her mother, Evelyn Rathe, was the first woman to be on the Waverly city council and the first and only woman to be mayor in Waverly.

Rathe was inaugurated into office at the beginning of 2017 and will serve a four-year term. After winning 69% of the vote, Rathe knew that the voters had confidence in her abilities and knew that she was the best fit for the job.

In a 2008 study published in Psychological Science, men received a boost in their perceived status after expressing anger. In contrast, women who expressed anger were often granted lower status and lower wages and were perceived as less competent.

“If I assert myself as a female, I come across as bossy, or those other gender-based pejorative terms that you would never hear a man called,” Rathe said. “A man can confidently state his opinion and not be called names for it that are gender-based. I think that it’s made me consider how I state my opinions and how I attempt to come across because I do think that women are still held to a different standard about how forcefully we state our opinions.”

The presence of more women in politics is going to give the women who run for office at each level more leeway in addition to a route to navigate that may not be as narrow.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have as much representation in political positions as we do in the population, and we’re not there yet,” Rathe said.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, women currently hold 19.3% of seats in the House of Representatives and 21.0% in the Senate. Over the past decade, these percentages have barely increased. At the current rate of progress, women will not achieve complete legislative parity in the U.S. Congress for another 100 years.

Today, the term “glass ceiling” is used as a metaphor to represent an invisible barrier to the advantage that women face at the top levels of the workplace. To break this glass ceiling, we must encourage women to run for office and to hold them to the same standards that we hold men to. Although equality in the political sector won’t happen overnight, pushing for more representation will help better reflect the views of the American people.


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