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12 June 2011

Why Your Congresswoman Has No Problem 'Keeping It in Her Pants'

The New York Times takes a stab at why it always seems to be congressmen and not congresswomen who get caught up in scandal. Here is what Ms. Stolberg surmises:
But there may be something else at work [besides biological determinism or gendered differences in free time]: Research points to a substantial gender gap in the way women and men approach running for office. Women have different reasons for running, are more reluctant to do so and, because there are so few of them in politics, are acutely aware of the scrutiny they draw — all of which seems to lead to differences in the way they handle their jobs once elected.

“The shorthand of it is that women run for office to do something, and men run for office to be somebody,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. “Women run because there is some public issue that they care about, some change they want to make, some issue that is a priority for them, and men tend to run for office because they see this as a career path.”
This is an intriguing conjecture, but I think it misses a bigger, more obvious explanation: men are socialized to take risks while women are socialized to be risk-averse. We encourage boys to play dangerous, injury-prone violent sports but feel more comfortable when girls stand on the sideline as cheerleaders. We let "boys be boys" but lecture girls on making "smart decisions" like not walking alone at night while handing them a fob of mace. When the boys and girls grow up having internalized these lessons, we shouldn't be surprised when their adult behavior mirrors these values: men are going to risk career, marriage, and family more often than women because this is what they have learned to do.

Moreover, climbing to the higher echelons of power, like becoming a congressperson, necessitates risk. Many give up lucrative careers, mortgage homes, and put strain on their families in order to win office. In other words, those who do stupid risky things do so because taking risks has served them well in the past. While tweeting a picture of one's junk might seem completely irrational to most of us, it makes perfect sense in the context of the gendered politics of the United States.

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