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'What have I got to lose?': Deborah Ross says men enter politics earlier because of approach, financial freedom

Fewer women start their careers early in politics than men—due in part to their mindset, former State Rep. Deborah Ross said Monday at a Women's Center event. 

“Most women want to be sure that they’re prepared, that they’re gonna win…while a lot of men will say, ‘What have I got to lose?’” said Ross, who represented the 38th District in the state legislature and led a failed bid for the U.S. Senate in 2016. “I think that the way men approach it is much more refreshing. It’s a lot more like playing sports—you’re not gonna win every game.”

Speaking alongside two professors at the event entitled "Year of the Woman" that covered female politicians and American voting patterns—among other topics—Ross also attributed the imbalance to the traditional gender roles of women. Most women run for office after their children leave their homes or after they secure stable careers, she said.

“Most of the people who start early in political office are men, because they have more financial freedom,” said Ross. 

Corrine McConnaughy, associate political science professor at George Washington University, agreed with Ross that women's mindsets can affect when they begin to take office. 

“Women don’t run until they’re twice as qualified as men—until they’re better fundraisers, until they’re well recognized already,” McConnaughy said. “So thank goodness they win, right? Because they’re better.”

According to McConnaughy, there is less evidence that voters are biased against women, or that female candidates receive different media coverage than men. Instead, she blamed the gender imbalance of the United States Congress on a lack of recruitment.

Deondra Rose, assistant professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy, gave another perspective. She said that one of the strongest barriers against female candidacies was American popular culture.

“For women, [there are] messages that signal that a president looks like Jed Bartlet,” she said, referring to the fictional president in “The West Wing.”

Rose said that cultural representations of female politicians can encourage more women to run for office. She pointed to the “Barbie President” dolls that debuted in 1992, as well as television shows like “Madam Secretary” and “Commander in Chief,” both of which star women in executive roles.

The panel also discussed more specific current events, including Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

Kavanaugh's nomination came under intense scrutiny after Christine Blasey Ford, research psychologist at Stanford University, accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were teenagers. An FBI investigation found no corroboration for Ford's narrative. 

Additional women have since made public allegations against Kavanaugh, including one who claimed Kavanaugh exposed himself to her. Kavanaugh won a narrow Senate confirmation vote. 

“Sexual harassment and sexual assault are abuses of power,” McConnaughy said. “So of course we find this as part of what we deal with in politics, which is navigating who gets what power.”

However, she said that it is up for the people to decide whether his confirmation represents a failure for the broader social movement.

“We have forced the political system to contend with this issue and put it on the agenda,” McConnaughy said. “You could choose to frame this as a success in this way.”


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