Did Your Family Role Impede Your Expression of Interest in Running for Office?

Jennifer Lawless, Director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, has been studying women and politics for more than a decade. And she even ran for office in 2006 when she was a professor at Brown University (she fell short in her Democratic primary). I’ve featured her several times over the years.

Lawless’s latest research, explored in “It’s the Family, Stupid? Not Quite . . .How Traditional Gender Roles Do Not Affect Women’s Political Ambition,” posits that traditional gender roles cannot be blamed for the gender gap in political ambition (women’s ambition being lower than men).

It’s a provocative read, especially if you are a woman, and you have thought about running for office, and you have in fact run for office. I would love to hear her speak about it, and since she’s been on C-SPAN before, maybe they will have her on again. There are several points in the report that I’d love clarified.

But at the present, what I’d most like to know is how the women I’ve met over the years who have actually run for office feel about Lawless’s findings. That’s a warning that I’m about to tag you on Facebook for some thoughts on the subject.

A teaser of Lawless’s findings, courtesy of this executive summary:

How do traditional gender roles impact women’s political ambition?

  • Women with and without families are equally encouraged to run for office by a party leader, elected official or political activist.
  • Women with family responsibilities are just as likely to be politically engaged as those without.
  • Women candidates tend to fare at least as well as their male counterparts, both in terms of vote totals and dollars raised.
  • Women are less likely to consider themselves “very qualified” than men, regardless of family responsibilities.

In my case, I agree that the role I fill in my family has never stunted my ambition – as in my want or desire – to run for office. But it absolutely has figured into whether and when I would run for office.

Now, I’d also say that the role I fill in my family did impede me early on because it me from ever having the idea that I could run. So this delay in having the idea – wouldn’t that be a way in which it was an impediment?

However, as Lawless concludes, even in my case, filling a traditional gender role in my family obviously hasn’t been enough to stop me from pursuing my ambition. But I’m still mulling over other details in her findings. Head over to my Facebook page (still not doing comments here yet) and let me know what you think.