Government and Politics

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only if she is by far the most qualified candidate. Moreover, women often encounter prejudice, discrimination, and abuse after they are elected. In 1979, a questionnaire was circulated among male legislators in Oregon, asking them to "categorize the lady legislators" with such labels as "mouth, face, chest/dress, and so forth".

Despite such indignities, women are becoming more successful in winning election to public office. For example, there were 1176 women in state legislatures in 1988, as compared with only 31 in 1921,144 in 1941, and 301 in 1969. Not only are more women being elected; more of them are identifying themselves as feminists.

The traditional woman in politics was a widow who took office after her husband’s death to continue his work and policies. However, women being elected in the 1980s are much more likely to view politics as their own career rather than as an afterthought. These trends are not restricted to the United States.

A new dimension of women and politics emerged in the 1980s. Surveys detected a growing "gender gap" in the political preferences and activities of males and females. Women were more likely to register as Democrats than as Republicans and were also more critical of the policies of the Republican administration.

What accounts for this "gender gap"? According to political analysts, the Democratic party’s continued support for the equal rights amendment may be attracting women voters, a majority of whom support this measure. At the same time, virtually all polling data indicate that women are substantially less likely than men to favor large defense budgets and military intervention overseas; these policies have become more associated with the Republican party of the 1980s than with the Democrats.

Politicians have begun to watch carefully the voting trends among women, since women voters could prove decisive in dose elections. The gender gap did appear to be a factor in the 1984 elections—though not as significant a factor as some observers had expected.

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