William & Mary

Representation of women in politics gaining ground in US

  • Claire McKinney
    Claire McKinney  is an assistant professor of government and gender, sexuality and women's studies at William & Mary. She recently spoke with W&M News about the representation of women in American politics.  Courtesy Photo
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On Nov. 8, 2016, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vied for the office of president of the United States.  Though she was not elected, the campaign was a win of a different sort, says Claire McKinney, William & Mary assistant professor of government and gender, sexuality and women's studies. It was a sign that women are taking an ever-increasing role at all levels of politics.  

“According to Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics, as of 2016, 19.6 percent of the U.S. Congress are women and 24 percent of statewide offices were held by women,” said McKinney. “So there has clearly been an increase in representation.”

{{youtube:medium|_ZV8nfP6t4g,McKinney discusses what the feminist political theory represents to politics in the United States.}}

W&M News recently sat down to talk with McKinney about women in politics. The professors, whose research primarily focuses on reproductive politics in the United States, believes Clinton’s run at the presidency was part of a broader trend of women wanting to represent their communities in legislative roles.

Even with that growth, the number of women in government nationwide is still lower than men, McKinney noted.

“I am hopeful that after the Women’s March on Washington, something that is directly attributable to Clinton’s loss, will motivate some women to seek higher office,” she said. “More opportunities should be made for women to develop other political competencies that can set them up to feel confident and competent in running for office."

Women have been long been involved in politics in the U.S., and understanding their role is important to understanding American politics in the 20th century, including the welfare state and its dismantling, McKinney said.

“Women were instrumental actors in setting the agenda, in pushing for public recognition of the need for sex education, contraceptives, abortion, welfare, informed consent laws, responses to domestic violence and sexual harassment,” she said. “Birth control might still be banned in many states without women in politics. And without women’s agitation, the right to vote, the right to education and the ability for women to work would all not exist.”

{{youtube:medium|M9C_nPjPrvI, McKinney discusses the contributions made by women regarding 20th century social movements in the United States.}}

While today’s high-profile female politicians can serve as role models, McKinney says that society should be more proactive in assisting women to reach those goals.

“I think the media has an obligation as well, in terms of diversifying what we see as legitimate women in power," she said. "This includes more positive representations of women of color, LGBTQ and women with less socioeconomic opportunities than others.”