By Julia Hyman
Since the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in 1920, women occupied many government positions in the United States. Despite the mandate of gender equality in the American democratic society, the United States still ranks 76th out of 193 countries globally in women's representation in the government, as revealed by a study conducted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Women in the U.S. make up around 19% of all Congress members, less than 25% of all state legislators, and 12% of the nation's governors. Nevertheless, many Americans have long expressed a desire to vote a woman into the office of president and other government positions. In the 1960s, just over half of Americans said they would elect a woman president, and that quickly rose to 92% in favor of a "generally well-qualified" woman for president in 2015, according to a poll conducted by Gallup. With only 8% not willing to vote for a woman for president, it seems disproportionate that we rank so low for the number of women in government positions.
With our seemingly progressive nation, we would assume we would have had a woman president by now. If we look at what job titles most women hold today, we will conclude that embedded stereotypes are overturning the aforementioned statistical claims that embrace women's ideas in office. Women are perceived as unsuited for a "high stress" job like a government title, are more sensitive to the competitive world, and would instead work in a passive profession that involves caring for people or educating kids. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 96.8% of women have a profession in education as a preschool or kindergarten teacher, and 89.4% are registered nurses. Stemming from this notion that women are more maternal and sensitive, women are less likely than men to receive outside sources' suggestion to run for office.
When looking at the U.S. government, there is a substantial partisan split in Congress. The Center for American Women in Politics unveiled 22 Republican women compared to 62 Democratic women in the House and 6 Republican women compared to 14 Democratic women in the Senate. Women democrats aspiring to gain a seat in Congress identify more with their supporters' liberal ideology, yet their republican counterparts seldom refute their voters' conservative views, which moderately explains gender disparities in Congress. The majority of Republican men avoid dealing with a female political leader than Democratic men. The main reason behind this is the conservative ideology of men being the main ‘’bread-winners’’ and "holders of high-ranked occupations," and women principally housewives and child caregivers. With this prevailing stereotype rooted in society, it is implausible that this count of women in government positions will continue to rise unless we overcome these fashions by evaluating and adopting foreign gender policies favoring women's participation in politics.
Rwanda is occupying the first place out of the 193 studied countries; The country performs better in parliament than any other country, with women holding more than half of the seats. However, although it is considered one of the most pro-women countries globally, it is solely from a political representation standpoint. The Rwanda Genocide is a significant factor in these statistical findings. After the genocide in 1994, Rwanda's situation became chaotic; the death toll rose to 800,000-1 million lives. Shortly after the genocide, the country's population went from 5.5 million to 6 million, with approximately 60-70% women. During the pre-genocide period, it was almost unheard of for a woman to own land or hold a job, let alone a government position. After the genocide, Rwanda opened up a "Rosie the Riveter" movement, similar the one World War II opened up for American women. Nevertheless, women did not lead the movement; it was the Rwandan president Paul Kagame who blazed a trail. He decided that the rogue state of Rwanda required reparations that men alone could not achieve.
In response, the country’s new constitution decreed that women must hold 30% of parliamentary seats and that women’s education should be encouraged. Rwanda’s women citizens soon took up as much as 64% of parliamentary seats, which is the highest percentage globally. As is the case in the U.S., gender biases that portray women as less intelligent and more sensitive when faced with a learned profession, like government positions, are still alive in the Rwandan society. Mirelli Umutomi -a high school student in Rwanda- sought to become the president of her school’s debate club instead of only serving as a secretary to a male president and was repeatedly labeled as too self-centered because of her ambition. She fought long and hard to obtain a presidential position in a club, and when she finally achieved her goal, unlike the rest of the women in her college, she had to face the struggle of her All-Women’s debate team being looked down upon by other male-dominant debate teams and club moderators. It does not matter if a country is ranked first or last for women’s representation in government, stereotypes and biases exist in most societies worldwide, oppressing a large number of women and hindering them from being taken seriously in learned professions.
When it comes to feminist ideals and policy goals, Iceland stands first. The country has an outstanding track record of forward-thinking in regards to feminist policies. When the World Economic Forum released its 2014 Global Gender Gap Index, it ranked Iceland number 1 out of 130 countries for six consecutive years. Moreover, Iceland has ranked first in political empowerment, education, and equality among professional and technical workers. For every man enrolled in a university in Iceland, there are 1.7 women enrolled; there are more women than men enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and there are roughly two women for every three men in parliament. For more than 150 years, women’s equality has been a top priority for Icelandic citizens. Women in Iceland were entitled to vote in 1915, which was five years before the U.S.
Moreover, on October 24, 1975, women in Iceland participated in a protest for economic equality, organizers referred to as “a day off” so that women would not be fired from their jobs, as it is the case for strikes. Around 90% of Icelandic women participated in the protest, and only one year later, the parliament passed a law guaranteeing equal pay. Five years after the “day off,” the first European and Icelandic female president, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, was elected and re-elected for three more terms until she retired in 1996. In 2009, Iceland elected the first openly-gay female Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, who played a notable role in passing the marriage equality act six years before the United States. Additionally, in 2000, Iceland passed a law giving equal parental leave: Three months for each parent, and an additional three months for both parents simultaneously. The Icelandic government pays 95% of kindergarten tuition, which equates to a 90% enrollment in childcare, unburdening women who have to work and take care of their newborn. With men and women having equal rights in every aspect and since Iceland’s economy is the 13th freest worldwide, it is no wonder that the country has the happiest population globally, offering many societal benefits and economic prosperities.
The U.S. and Iceland are both capitalist societies with free-market systems and welfare systems. However, the U.S. has abused the free market and has exploited women for market gain. Our capitalist society is mostly set by patriarchal standards, including never-ending demands geared toward women about how they should appear, what activities they should take part in to optimize themselves, and what products they must purchase to embellish their image. For example, commercials advertising athleisure, which includes athletic wear that is supposed to make women appear slimmer and more confident in their body when in reality, it is just attempting to push women into unnecessary purchases to fuel the market. Advertisements about makeup and face-scrub products that are in a round-about way telling women to "cover up their flaws in order to be deemed beautiful and acceptable to society" is another capitalist stratagem to make women feel like they need to buy something in order to feel good about themselves, further fueling the shady market. Also, workout chains such as Soul Cycle, Barre, Spin, and yoga are geared more towards women and are produced to make them feel like they need to pour their money into these industries to maintain an "acceptable" figure. On the other hand, Iceland uses its market to embrace women instead of exploiting them, and its government allocates considerable funding to enhance women's well-being.
The evolution of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the political sphere is progressing incrementally in the United States compared to other western style democracies such as Iceland. Even developing countries that have undergone an abrupt political change are putting women on a pedestal and value their participation in government affairs. Growing up as a woman in capitalist America was not easy. Often, I've received much hate from male counterparts for aspiring to parallel our economy and political makeup to countries like Iceland, where women have equal rights to men. People call me crazy for fighting for a cause that will "never happen because America is past the point of no return." I've been told my opinions are invalid and less believable because I'm a woman. I felt as if I'm not the "ideal woman" because I don't take part in optimization activities run by a capitalist and patriarchal society that tries to dictate the way I should look and what actions I should engage in. Sorry, Mr. Capitalism, I'll stick to my sweatpants, Taekwondo, and makeup-free face. The first step in ameliorating our world is discernment- we should be conscious of our political actions and take ones that do not entail women's exploitation. Once we stand against vile political decisions and the over-optimization standards, we are one step closer to obtaining our freedom from the capitalist grip. We can shift from mainstream feminism to true feminism and authentic individuality, giving us a better battleground to fight for our equality and take the lead in government affairs.