May 29 2008

Opposing View: Forget about 'gender parity'

Political parties should seek to recruit qualified women as candidates. They should do so because women are electable and make good policymakers and leaders, not to reach an artificial goal of gender "parity" among elected officials.

The notion that "Democratic legitimacy in the United States demands we continue to move toward gender parity in electoral office," as advanced in the Brookings report, wrongly assumes that men and women have divergent interests and that only women properly speak for and reflect women's values. As a supporter of limited government and free markets, I don't feel my views are reflected in any way by Speaker Nancy Pelosi or presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Women wield tremendous political power in our democratic process, by exercising the right to vote (women cast 54% of ballots in 2004), working in government and holding public office at all levels. While women represent a minority of elected positions, Clinton, Pelosi, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and many others have demonstrated that women can reach the heights of political power. And women continue to assume roles once exclusively held by men.

Yet there is no reason to expect men and women to be equally represented in elected office. Research indicates women are less interested in the process of running for and holding office, and they have other preferences for how to use their time and talents. Those fixated on achieving "gender parity" - whether it's in the halls of Congress, university science departments or in day care centers - want to discount men's and women's stated interests and preferences, which frequently diverge. But we should not assume that individuals are routinely mistaken about what careers give them fulfillment.

The modern campaign process requires long hours under intense media scrutiny. Unwise restrictions on fundraising make it necessary for candidates to seek new sources of money continuously. Fewer women than men are willing to undertake these activities.

Yes, the public should question whether the political process is conducive to identifying and electing the best representatives - I doubt it is. The right reforms would encourage the participation of people who can best serve our country, regardless of gender.

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