The Demonstration Effect and Women in Politics

Posted on Posted in Fall 2016, MINERO MAGAZINE

Story By  Julia Hettiger  Illustrations and Design by Jacobo de la Rosa

With just a simple movement, a whole row of dominoes can go tumbling–one by one knocking each other down. This is known as the domino effect, but it can be a social occurrence in more than just its traditional meaning. When presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced her campaign for the presidency in 2014, there was an uproar from the female population. It seemed to have caused a prolific shift in females’ roles in politics, increasing women’s participation. Along with the spike, there has been debate about whether women are clearly informed about Clinton’s political agenda or if they are simply voting for her because she is a woman.

  Social scientists classify this as the demonstration effect. If a woman sees a female heavily involved in politics, she is more likely to become involved as well. April Rumgay, a graduate student in political science, says that while this may cause more women to become involved in politics, there will still be a dramatic gap between men and women.“The demonstration effect plays a role in this, however, I do not believe that it will play a significant enough role where the right number of women will become involved in politics,” April says. “Right now, women are disproportionately underrepresented in politics and that number is not going to get any better, I don’t think, with a female president.”

  The same effect happened when, in 2007, Barack Obama announced his campaign for presidency. There was a surge in the number of African Americans taking new interest in politics, but there has been little to no effect on the number of non-Caucasian politicians.

“We certainly do not have enough politicians right now of different colors of skin still, despite having an African-American president,” April says. “Although I highly believe in the demonstration effect, I think there are too many variables, be it discourse and the like, that are affecting this.”

  Research conducted by the South Asia Institute at Harvard University showed the demonstration effect can help increase the number of women involved in political leadership roles, but the method would take many years to provide significant results.

According to a study by The Nation Magazine, women hold less than 20 percent of congressional seats in the United States, less than 25 percent of the statewide and state legislative positions and only 12 of the major 100 cities have female mayors.

  Besides being underrepresented, those women who do hold government positions are treated differently than men. Lydia Ness-Garcia, co-founder of the awareness group Stand with El Paso Women, a group dedicated to shining light on women’s rights and issues, said she has noticed a dramatic difference between the way men and women involved in politics are treated, respectively.

  “I think that women in politics still have a very hard time being judged by a double standard in terms of having to look both like they’re competent, but without being too aggressive,” Ness-Garcia says. “You hear certain questions that are asked of women in terms of who did their hair, who dressed them and what kind of clothes are they wearing. In those kinds of comments you can still see how women are treated differently in politics.”

  Women’s lack of participation in politics is not the only issue highlighted by Clinton’s presidential aspirations–women’s understanding of other candidates’ political agendas has come into question as well. Of the number of women taking a newfound interest in politics because of Clinton’s campaign, it is hard to determine which ones truly understand the issues.

  Ness-Garcia says knowing a woman’s intentions when voting for a female president can be skewed. “It’s brought a lot of women’s issues to report from and it’s allowed women to rally around those issues, but at the same time, I’m seeing a lot of backlash, like if you’re not supporting her it’s treason, in terms of being a woman,” Ness-Garcia says. “You see these comments that I think are taken out of context. Like the Madeline Albright comments saying we should support her because she’s a woman, but I don’t believe in that and I think that’s equally as sexist.”

   Although Clinton is the DNC candidate and has demonstrated a strong female following, not all women are supporting the former first lady. As of July, she has won less than half of the female vote, with  36 percent supporting Donald Trump and 21 percent still undecided. This is due in part to women standing behind other candidates’ agendas, but also because many young women do not want to be held accountable for voting for her only because she is female.

“The common thing I hear around here is ‘I don’t look at gender. I don’t look at skin color,’ which is a problem,” April says. “If you don’t know my gender, if you don’t know the color of my skin or my sexual orientation, you don’t know what I go through because of it. And if you don’t know this, how are you supposed to make things better?”

  Other women may also vote for her because they want to demonstrate they support the fight for women’s rights. April says she believes there is more to it than just voting for a female president. “Being a woman in politics doesn’t inherently make you an advocate for women’s rights, but as women, we go through different experiences than men do, and having women in politics offers that different opinion, that different outlook, which is essential in democracy,” she says. “So voting for Hillary because she’s a woman doesn’t seem crazy, and I’m okay with that.”

Only time will tell if the number of women involved in and understanding of politics will change because of Hillary Clinton’s possible presidency. “From what I’ve seen, there hasn’t been much of a difference of women in politics over the years, but because Hillary is running for president, it’s obvious something has flipped the coin,” April says. “I’ve heard debates about whether or not a woman is capable of being an executive, which is the same thing I heard eight years ago, and to me, that does not spell change 

En Breve

El efecto demostración en la política se refiere al incremento de atención de la populación en general debido a un a persona.

  Pasó con el presidente Barack Obama, que llevó a una mayor participación de la comunidad afro-americana, y con la candidatura de Hillary Clinton que ha energizado a las mujeres de los Estados Unidos.

  La desproporcionada representación de las mujeres en puestos políticos y su forma de decidir a que candidatos o candidatas apoyar también son temas que han recibido atención gracias a las aspiraciones de Clinton de volver a residir en la Casa Blanca – ahora como presidenta. “Ha traído muchos temas relacionados con mujeres sobre los cuales reportar y le ha dado la oportunidad a muchas mujeres de apoyar estos temas”, dice Lydia Ness-García, co-fundadora del grupo Stand with El Paso Women que se dedica a llamar atención a temas sobre los derechos de las mujeres.

  Clinton y su rol importante en las elecciones de este año podrán haber incrementado la atención de las mujeres en la política, pero según April Rumgay, estudiante de posgrado en ciencias políticas, no es suficiente. “El efecto demostración tiene un rol en esto, pero no creo que sea uno realmente significativo donde el numero necesario de mujeres se involucren en la política”, dice April. “Hoy en día las mujeres están desproporcionadamente bajo representadas en la política y ese numero no va a mejorar, inclusive con una mujer presidenta”.

  Según la revista The Nation, las mujeres ocupan menos del 20 por ciento de los puestos en el congreso, menos del 25 por ciento de puestos estatales y solo 12 de las 100 ciudades más grandes del país tienen una mujer en el puesto de alcalde.

  Hay quienes opinan que una mujer debe votar por una mujer por el simple echo de ser mujer. “Ser una mujer en la política no te vuelve una defensora de los derechos de la mujer automáticamente. Pero como mujeres, pasamos por experiencias diferentes a las de los hombres y el tener mujeres en la política ofrece esa opinión diferente que es esencial para la democracia”, dice April. “Así que votar por Hillary por ser mujer no parece ser tan descabellado”.

  Ness-García piensa que debe de haber más detrás de la decisión cuando una mujer va a las urnas. Votar por alguien basado solamente en que son mujeres, en su opinión es contraproducente. “He visto mucha reacción en cuanto a ‘si no votas por ella es traición por ser mujer”, dice Ness-García. “Yo no pienso igual, y creo que esa actitud es igual de sexista”