The Congressional Gender Gap

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Via Yglesias, here's Dana Goldstein:

Electing women to public office is a crucial goal. A shamefully tiny 16.8 percent of Congress is female, and research shows female politicians are more likely to be pro-choice and to support spending on health care and education than male politicians, even of the same party. But to succeed, the Beltway organizations that promote feminist candidates, such as EMILY's List and NOW, need to throw their support behind women who want the job, and have the political skills to get it; the passive coronation of the wrong female candidates can do a lot of harm to American women.

Even if Martha Coakley, their cause célèbre, pulls through this race, she will enter the Senate in a vastly weakened position, perceived as a frontrunner who blew her lead and mangled her campaign. What's more, Coakley's lack of fight raises questions about her ability to effectively advocate for women's issues as a legislator in a deeply divided Congress. It will be tough to build grassroots excitement around her reelection, and she may face primary challengers in 2012.

Dana's point about women who "want the job" got me thinking about an old debate. How many women really want the job? Are there fewer women looking to have a career in politics than men? If so, why? Are they being discouraged, either actively or passively? Is politics, at least as it's in American, gendered in such a way as to attract male candidates?

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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