On Scrutiny and Representation of Women in Politics

Editorial / Opinion Piece / Blog Post

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October 26, 2014

On Scrutiny and Representation of Women in Politics

By Ashwath Komath

 

Being a woman in Politics is a very hard job. There is often this notion that women won't fare well in politics and women have to work despite these notions. So there exists this environment which is constantly seeking to keep her down and out of politics and she has to actually transcend that in order to have any place at all at the table. This only makes her job all the more tough and therefore more worthy of praise. 

 

Women are subject to more scrutiny than their male counter-parts over their lives, especially their personal lives. While a woman’s record as a politician is open to scrutiny and criticism and is acceptable especially in democracies which function effectively due to the right to hold their leaders accountable, women are subject to a much higher standards, and this is not necessarily a good thing. More than higher standards, it is actually higher scrutiny that provides an illusion of higher standards. 

 

The performance of a female politician will have more scrutiny, and more criticism if she fails. What is worse, is that people may suggest that her being a female is a cause of failure. This is often the case when it comes to dealing with things like defence, intelligence and other larger portfolios. They keep saying that a woman is incapable of such posts because one needs masculine traits in order to deal with such matters. 

 

Again, this is ironic, because when men do fail in their duties in the same positions, hey are never confronted the way women are when it comes to their failures. Here nobody brings up gender as a matter for criticism. 

 

Women’s personal lives are also subject to much more scrutiny than their male counterparts. If a politician has extra-marital affairs, the media may note it for a while and then forget about it because society tends to forgive the males for promiscuous behavior. However, a woman's sexual life is one that is always looked at and always a subject of wide discussion. She always is subject to unending scrutiny of her personal life.. Anything personal at all, may be used as fodder for ridicule and criticism. A woman’s responsibility to keep everybody happy, as a politician, is much bigger than a man's responsibility.

 

This scrutiny causes another major problem, and that is it doesn't leave you much time to devote to what you should be doing, which is formulating and reviewing policy. 

 

This is a fact. If we look at traditional bureaucratic modes of organization, what is understood is that subjecting officials to too much scrutiny restricts them and at the end restricts their productivity. What compounds the problem for female politicians is that they have to also worry about their personal lives as well which is now under the scrutiny of the public. An official in public service rarely has to worry about bringing their personal lives into the public sphere. 

 

What is a woman to do when not only her actions in office closely monitored and criticized, but she also has to fight smear campaigns against herself personally and her family, when it is much easier to malign a woman than a man due to patriarchal notions that plague societies? 

 

Excessive scrutiny prevents her from making bold decisions that need to be taken because she worries about the backlash that happens as a result. The backlash is more severe because society has already trained its mind to assume failure on the part of the woman, that she isn't fit to be occupying higher office. So this creates unimpressive records when it comes to public service and it fails to further their political careers and occupy more important positions. 

 

When few women occupy higher positions in office, there is no case to further the cause of women for their integration into politics in larger numbers. People don't buy into the whole idea and the advancement of women is stalled.

 

Women become discouraged from competing in politics. After all, who likes to see their privacy and personal life exposed for very little in return? While most politicians may be prepared for exposing their personal lives to the public, nobody would want to be subject to even more stringent scrutiny for no fault of their own, especially not because of their gender. 

 

This excessive scrutiny in itself represents an unending chain of how women can't thrive in politics as we all would like. It is representative of the fact that women have much larger forces wanting to pull them down than those that want to see them succeed. While most of it can be attributed to how a society views its women, it shows that there are a lot of prejudices and misconceptions it has to remedy in terms of its mindset before we can expect higher representation of women in politics. 

 

It’s all a vicious circle that reinforces difficulties for the integration of women in the political sphere.