October 20, 2023 opinion

Are they ‘women politicians’ or politicians? - the challenges women still face in global governance

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Aleksandra Lasek in Warsaw, Poland

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October 24, 2022. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to students at University of California, Irvine.

Picture by: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez | Facebook

The underrepresentation of women in multiple political bodies, either international or domestic, is quite an evident phenomenon.

It is a severe weakness that threatens the validity of the modern democratic ideal dictated by parity democracy and is clear how women in politics are not treated as politicians but rather as ‘women politicians’.

According to the United Nations, women serve as heads of state and government in just 31 countries and represent just 26.5% of the members of parliament. That said, the number of women in politics has been increasing in recent years.

Despite the increase in female representation in global affairs, the preliminary status which comes with high political positions is not the same for men and women.

“Don’t be too feminine,” “don’t be too assertive,” “smile enough but not too much.”

There are a myriad of rules women are to adhere to or else they are considered out of the game. The amount of public scrutiny faced by women politicians is severely different, with Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, and Hillary Clinton, the 2016 U.S. presidential candidate, being well-known examples.

Now it’s Nikki Haley’s turn to discern the beauty of running for US president as a female candidate. When considering the Republican Party politics, her ambitions might turn into an impending catastrophe.

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  • Laphonza Butler was sworn in as a senator by VP Kamala Harris, October 19, 2023. | Picture by Kamala Harris | X

    Picture by: Kamala Harris | Twitter

  • Women running for office confront a particularly insidious strain of American gender prejudice that has dominated every prior campaign even in the best of conditions.

    Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign was marred by sexist double standards, which contributed significantly to her defeat to Donald J. Trump, and the hostile media coverage hampered her public reputation which further fuelled the concept of being a ‘woman politician’.

    When Carly Fiorina, an American politician, ran for president in 2016, she suffered an onslaught of sexist comments from then-candidate Donald Trump and many others as the rules for women holding positions in public offices are still quite different.

    Some nations question women’s suffrage and their prime involvement with state politics, or even their access to higher education, like in the case of Saudi Arabia. Others, who represent their country, call their state official a “f***ing b***h” – trivialising women politicians and their standing in a few demeaning words.

    These words were aimed at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), a U.S. representative for New York’s 14th congressional district and the youngest woman ever to serve in the United States Congress.

    According to AOC, and an article in The Hill, Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida made questionable remarks to AOC on her way to vote. “You are out of your freaking mind,” Yoho allegedly stated, alluding to her statements attributing an increase in crime in New York City to unemployment, poverty, and “economic desperation” caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

    When AOC informed Yoho he was being “rude,” the Florida senator responded by calling her a “f***ing b***h.”

    A few days after the incident, congresswoman AOC made a speech in the US Congress addressing the senator’s behaviour: “Rep Yoho put his finger in my face. He called me disgusting, he called me crazy, he called me out of my mind. And he called me dangerous.”

    Continuing that “he took a few more steps, and after I had recognized his comments as rude he walked away and said ‘I’m rude? You’re calling me rude?’ I took a few steps ahead and I walked inside and cast my vote because my constituents send me here each and every day to fight for them, and to make sure that they are able to keep a roof over their head, that they’re able to feed their family, and that they’re able to carry their lives with dignity.”

    “I walked back out and there were reporters in the front of the Capitol, and in front of reporters, Rep. Yoho called me—and I quote—’a f***ing b***h.”

    As a young woman with an aspiration to join the political world in the future, I couldn’t believe the public impudence, the unacceptable behaviour one is signed up to tolerate.

    As a Polish woman, however, I cannot say I was surprised. When entering the realm of Polish politics one must be prepared for a rather conspicuous gender bias. This particular hostile nature is the exact reason why the feeling of disappointment was not a shocking occurrence.

    On September 16, 2023, we had the privilege of hearing very strong claims coming from various Polish right-wing politicians during a convention of the “Patriarchat” (Patriarchy) Foundation.

    The specific objectives of the organisation are not yet known. Its founder, Mateusz Curzydło, himself explained that he had no long-term plans and everything will depend on the first year’s turnout. The current goal is recruiting new people and organising meetings, much like the one on September 16 – “A dozen or so men would sit and just talk,” said Mateusz Curzydło.

    Their talking entails making statements like “Saudi Arabia is pretty cool,” with the redundancy of education for women, and the idea of women being a sole addition to man’s property in mind.

    These are only a few examples. Members of the foundation questioned whether women should be allowed to vote, and of course discussed the system of judging an adequate woman using the rule of the 4P’s -: ‘Przyjemna, Posłuszna, Pomocna, Pożyteczna’ (Pleasant, Obedient, Helpful, Useful).

    Many treat it as a great punchline during their family dinners, however, the stakes are much higher as the foundation is made up of important figures in the world of Polish politics such as Janusz Korwin-Mikke, one of the leaders of the Konfederacja Party. The social impact could potentially be catastrophic as the parliamentary elections are just around the corner, happening on October 15.

    Currently, women take up a minority of 29.13% of the seats in Polish Sejm (the lower house of the bicameral parliament of Poland.).

    I am not claiming that men are wrong for having a certain view, supporting a notion dictated by an ideology they feel is right to follow. By any means, we are free to hold any views one desires to have.

    That said, women in public office are often not treated as a politician, but as a ‘woman politician’. Their achievements are grounded on the fact they are able to stand on the same political platform as men just for being a woman. Their political success is not yet normalised and comes with certain predetermined expectations.

    It is not a debate of opposing views, but the inability to join the conversation on an equal basis. In my own opinion the word ‘woman’ before ‘politician’ could be easily summarised by Nikki Haley’s t-shirt she wore at the Iowa State Fair 2023, which said “UNDERESTIMATE ME – THAT’LL BE FUN.”

    Written by:

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    Aleksandra Lasek

    Human Rights Section Editor

    Warsaw, Poland

    Born in Krosno, Poland, in 2006, Aleksandra plans to major in political science in international relations with the ambition to acquire a degree in law. For Harbingers’ Magazine, she writes mostly about politics and social sciences with plans to contribute creative writing and poetry as well.

    She started as a contributor for Harbingers’ Magazine in 2022. In 2023, she was promoted twice – first to the role of the Human Rights correspondent and, subsequently, to the Human Rights section editor. As the section editor, she commenced her work by organising the Essay on Women’s Rights Competition, which elected six members of the Women’s Rights Newsroom.

    Aleksandra’s academic interests cover history, politics, civil rights movements and any word Mary Wollstonecraft wrote. She is also interested in music (her favourite performers being Dominic Fike, MF DOOM, and The Kooks) and anything that includes the voice of Morgan Freeman.

    Aleksandra speaks English, Polish, and Spanish.

    Edited by:

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    Sofiya Suleimenova

    International Affairs Section Editor

    Geneva, Switzerland

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