Politics & Policy

Confessions of a Bad Woman

There are reasons fewer women than men choose to enter politics.

I suppose I’m a bad woman — by today’s standards, that is. For some reason, I take absolutely no pride in the accomplishments of women per se. I am utterly uninspired by first women astronauts or secretaries of state. It is of no consequence to me what percentage of the United States Senate or House of Representatives shares my chromosome pattern. I don’t wait with gnawing impatience for America to pass the milestone of needing a fellow to fill the post of first gentleman.

This is not to say that I resent or disparage female accomplishment. I admire excellence wherever it is found, and many women, including Margaret Thatcher, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Priscilla Buckley, Jane Austen, Joan Sutherland, Aung San Suu Kyi, George Eliot, Yelena Bonner, and Golda Meir, occupy plinths in my personal pantheon. I just don’t have a rooting interest in the decisions of one-half of humanity.

#ad#These reflections were occasioned by a meeting of the Kirkpatrick Society — a luncheon group of conservative-leaning women created and managed by the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Mary Eberstadt. Most women, I suspect, including most conservative women, are not like me. They do feel female solidarity.

It’s odd that we are exhorted to feel solidarity with fellow women but not with fellow Americans (that would be unbecoming chauvinism) or with coreligionists (that would be excessively sectarian). Men, of course, may cheer for women, but not for their own sex.

I know, I know. Women were discouraged from pursuing careers beyond certain narrow constraints as recently as 40 years ago. But invocations of the bad old days when women could be only nurses or teachers have always struck me as overwrought. Labor-saving devices, a dynamic economy, and changing social views permitted women to expand their horizons professionally, but it wasn’t an unmixed blessing. It’s become harder, for example, to lure really smart women into teaching these days, because they can get higher pay and more prestige in other work. And children are no longer benefiting from the full-time attention of at least one parent. Also, surveys have shown that women are less happy now than they were 35 years ago.

Three cheers for great women in politics. Susana Martinez was terrific at the Republican convention. Nikki Haley seems very solid. But let’s face it, most women in politics are liberals, and women voters tend to prefer Democrats.

Karlyn Bowman, a wise demographer and student of American politics, offered the Kirkpatrick Society some insights into why women are not better represented in politics. Surveys of potential candidates have shown that women believe the system is biased against them. They are also more risk-averse than men, and more repelled by negative campaigning. In 2001 and in a follow-up study ten years later, women reported that they were more concerned about the potential loss of privacy and family time than men were. Doesn’t sound like the patriarchy at work, does it?

Bowman cited another study that examined this apparently widespread belief that women have it worse in politics than do men. Jody Newman assembled a huge database on candidates for state legislatures, governorships, and House and Senate seats. She concluded that at every level, women are just as likely as men to be victorious.

There’s a footnote, though. Democratic women candidates do better than Republican women at attracting the votes of women. Among 24 Senate and gubernatorial races in the 1980s that featured a woman, only one Republican woman received a larger share of the women’s vote than her opponent. Since 2000, in only four races did Republican women get more female than male support (and two of those were for Maine moderate Olympia Snowe).

Still, Bowman reminds us that 2012 ought not to become calcified as the “free contraceptives” year. She’s found no evidence that birth control was a big factor in the race. Nor was it a victory for the “Julia” narrative — the Obama-campaign cartoon that depicted a prototypical American woman being cared for cradle to grave by the state. Mitt Romney won white women by 56 to 42 percent. He won 53 percent of married women. It was the lopsided majorities of black (96 percent), Asian (66 percent), and Hispanic (87 percent) women who gave the election to Obama.

I believe that women — and the country — would be far better off if all Americans married before having children and stayed married whenever possible, and if at least one parent held down a job. Then again, I’m a bad woman.

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2013 Creators Syndicate, Inc.

editors note: This article has been amended since its initial publication.

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