While the United States continues to pride itself on being a liberal mecca and exemplification of democracy to the rest of the world, we lack severely in the aspect of representation. The notion of “no taxation without representation” reigns supreme in our history lessons and as a core principle of America’s democratic strength, yet women, racial, ethnic and sexual minorities remain unjustly underrepresented. What marks as most exemplary of America’s hypocrisy is our claim to high levels of gender equality when, even after more than two centuries of democracy, women constitute only around 25 percent of our legislature.
Defenders of America’s history and commitment to the outdated framework of government will paint societal notions and public opinions as crucial to understanding why women have still not been able to break through to holding higher percentages in government. While sexism and gender discrimination have been an integral part of our heteronormative and patriarchal government, it is the electoral systems and rules in place that I believe hold even greater influences on the delayed electability of women and gender minorities.
Based on Hillary Clinton’s 65 million votes in the 2016 presidential election, it is plenty evident that the public believes a woman can hold the highest position in government. Based on the numerous women who are elected into Congress each election cycle, it is well established that women are more than able to gain the support of constituents in virtually every state. Ultimately, given today’s social understanding of gender, there exists high support for women to be elected to office, yet they still struggle to comprise a healthy proportion of our legislature. The argument that the general public is still not ready for more female representation is ultimately a scapegoat to the real systems that prevent women from holding office.
Consequently, it is our strict adherence to our majority electoral system that has allowed for this culture of a male dominated congress to persist. Our electoral system being “first past the post” means that whoever wins a plurality or majority of votes in a given district gets the whole district. What this does to our government is make it so that large populations (as high as 49 percent of the votes) are not being represented. While we, as people living in the United States, have become accustomed to this idea that whoever wins the most votes gets the whole district or whole state, many other governments around the world have adopted other electoral systems to address this disparity in representation.
Proportional representation electoral systems essentially allow for a multitude of candidates from any given district to be elected into the national assembly as long as they get a sizable amount of votes. This allows for multiple parties, a lot more candidates and consequently a lot more diversity. Even more so, governments across the globe have implemented gender quotas ensuring higher percentages of female elected officials, often having a higher impact on the prevalence of women’s rights in government than in states without these quotas. Essentially, it is our electoral system that prioritizes the majority, no matter how slight it is, that has created an environment where female candidates are often stuck to the sidelines despite great public support of them.
Consequently, if we as a society truly value gaining gender equality and progress in terms of women’s, sexual and gender minority rights, we will seriously consider a constitutional shift in the way we organize our elections. We would drop this electoral system that inherently fosters an atmosphere that is susceptible to the patriarchal and heteronormative perceptions of dominance and instead adopt a proportional representation system that implicitly commits to ensuring representation. As we continue on in our history priding ourselves on our liberalness, it is time we actually reform and revolutionize the way we have organized the power of our votes and the true power of representation and shift from this 200-year strong electorally systemic prioritization of the straight white male.