Towson University Student Government Association President Charlotte Ridgeway is a strong proponent for women’s equality in politics.
“Women are still not taken very seriously in the workforce, especially business, and even more so if they have an executive title,” said Ridgeway. “There are motherly expectations still lingering and their role in politics or elsewhere is unfamiliar.”
The SGA has a ratio of 26 men to 16 women, which makes 2014 the first year men have dominated the association. Although she would love to see more women in the association, Ridgeway feels it all comes down to qualifications.
“There are many overly qualified men in politics and there isn’t a need for less of them,” Ridgeway said. “As long as a qualified woman gets the chance over an unqualified man, then it’s fair. I think there just needs to be a better balance.”
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“Women in politics is good!” exclaimed Regina Sztajer, President of Republican Women of Baltimore County. “It’s the same way you need a government that is made up of two parties, not just one. It should be that both parties are in power and that’s how you’re going to get fairness. If it’s a one party system, then it’s a dictatorship.”
For many years following the birth of the United States of America, that “dictatorship” was the accepted norm in society. Women were constantly fighting for their rights, but progress wasn’t fully made until the women’s liberation movement. Women won many rights for themselves, but there’s still a long way to go. After all, how can women and men be considered equal when there’s not equal representation within the government?
“You have to have a balance of both [men and women] in order for it to be fair,” Sztajer said. “Power should be shared.”
Even though power should be shared, it’s not. In statewide legislature, the most representation by women comes from Vermont with 41 percent of women. Still not even half. Maryland comes in eighth place with 30.3 percent of women representing the state, and Louisiana in last place with 12.5 percent, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
Overall, women take up only 24.2 percent of representatives in state legislature, 20.8 percent in the Senate, and 25.4 percent in the House of Representatives, according to the Center for American Women and Politics.
“In politics, I believe everyone should have a voice in what happens for the area in which they live,” said Kennard Wallace, Towson University political science student who is running for political office in the state of Maryland. “So whether that is locally, statewide, or nationally, every demographic should have their voices represented.”
Women are represented, albeit in small numbers, but they also face struggles once they’re in the political world due to their gender.
“The ultimate major struggle for women, and for a lot of underrepresented demographics, is the historical systematic lockout that they have faced,” Wallace said. “For the longest time women could not even vote for elected officials to represent their views.”
“The major struggle is the continuous stereotyping of women to be a weaker sex,” said Bella Santos-Owens, president of the Baltimore County Commission for Women.
Some even argue the question: What if a woman with political power has to make an important decision while menstruating? Won’t she be too emotional?
“Men and women all have bad and good days,” Santos-Owens said. “Some men exhibit moodiness when they can’t express themselves sexually. Therefore it should not even be an issue for women to make a serious decision while on their period. It works both ways; men and women make decisions every minute. When you are in a position to make these serious decisions, you should be in this position due to your talent and capabilities.”
Many women have proven to be more than capable in the political world. The list spans all the way back from the first woman to run for political office, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, to Eleanor Roosevelt, Sandra Day O’Connor, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, and the oft-discussed Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The discussion surrounding Clinton is frequently plagued with criticism, and not just about her political views. Clinton is often described as too manly, intimidating, and cold. It’s as though when she acts like a women she’s unfit to be a politician due to her gender, but when she takes on traditionally male qualities she’s too manly, too assertive, too dominant, etc. It’s a no-win situation for someone who doesn’t have clearly defined gender roles for society to identify them by.
“Sometimes gender has an impact on how people view certain politicians,” Santos-Owens said. “But I firmly believe that these are all stereotypes of women and not the true representation of women’s capabilities.”
When will their capabilities be enough?
“I think discrimination against women will eventually end, but only when ignorance towards women is eradicated,” Santos-Owens said. “This issue will be resolved if all women are encouraged to participate more and take leadership roles.”
Right here in Baltimore, there are several women in leadership roles, including Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
“In Baltimore, it’s somewhere in between,” Santos-Owens said. “Sometimes I still get the impression that I’m being patronized as a woman leader. Every now and then, I hear men joke, ‘is there a commission for men?’”
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If you ask Ridgeway what characteristics women bring to politics, she can easily sum it up in one word, compassion.
“Women have a way of looking at the humanitarian needs in a more nurturing way than men typically do,” said Ridgeway. “They can take that and relate heavily to their constituents.”
Gender is something you cannot hide and in some situations individuals may be biased towards their own gender. This can either work for or against a female running for office, although it might not be the most educated vote at all times. Until women are considered the norm in politics, women will continue to receive negative feedback, in Ridgeway’s opinion.
“There may not be laws against women’s rights, but there’s still the perceptions of people that females are inadequate or unqualified,” said Ridgeway.
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Today, women are showing their power through leadership, perseverance, and determination. The Baltimore County League of Women Voters is made up of about 150 members and was founded in 1920 right after women gained the right to vote. The league is non-partisan and its goal is to make sure all eligible voters have the opportunity and information to exercise their right to vote. These voters include first-time voters, non-college youth, new citizens, minorities, the elderly and low-income Americans. Besides Baltimore County, the League of Women Voters is all across the country at the local, state and national level.
“I think people should join because the better informed you are as a citizen, the better citizen you will be,” said Baltimore County League of Women Voters Co-president Tracy Miller. “We are a human rights type of organization.”
Miller became active in the league in 2000 when her youngest son turned 18 and was eligible to vote. Since her son wanted to be educated on his right to vote, joining the league sparked Miller’s interest. The league puts out a voter’s guide before every election and the next one will come out in May before the primary election on June 24.
Her jobs as co-president is to arrange speakers and make sure the logistics of the league are running properly. Previously, Miller ran for the House of Delegates, so she is very familiar with prominent politicians.
Baltimore County supports the U.N., civil liberties and same-sex marriage in Maryland, but they are opposed to the death penalty because they believe it goes against basic human rights. When they take a position on a particular issue, the next step is to lobby. A committee develops a group of questions and eventually they come to a consensus.
The League has strategies to engage, support and protect voters. These strategies fall into five categories: voting rights, improving elections, registering voters, educating voters and D.C. voting rights. The league opposes voter photo identification laws, advocates against barriers to the voter registration process and helps voters get what they need to vote.
To register to vote, the league targets large audiences such as high schools and community colleges. Once this audience is targeted, the next step is to improve elections. The league makes sure the elections are free, fair and accessible. While at such places like high schools and community colleges, the league hosts hundreds of candidate debates and forums. Particularly in D.C., the league makes sure that citizens have the same rights of self-government and full voting representation in Congress as all other citizens of the U.S.
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If a woman wants to see a change they have to get involved, whether it’s on the local, regional, or national level. It can start as early as being a member of your high school student government, and gradually continue to prosper through college and postgraduate years.
“To actually get to where you want to be, you have to be strong enough to not listen to criticisms,” Ridgeway said. “Use your gender to your advantage. You can relate to people on levels that men can’t and this can create strong bonds.”
Having the role as president, Ridgeway feels she has come across more opportunities because she is a woman. She believes having a woman as president of the university has a lot to do with it.
“I have had the opportunity to go to conferences and workshops just geared toward women,” said Ridgeway. “If I was a man, those programs would not even exist for my gender.”