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The Challenges Facing Women Entering Politics

Clockwise from top left: Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), U.S. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) and U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas).

Women make up half of the U.S. population, but hold less than 20 percent of the seats in Congress. Cindy Simon Rosenthal spent much of her career studying this issue, and then got involved herself. She was the first female elected mayor of Norman, Oklahoma - and now runs the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at The University of Oklahoma. 

Interview Highlights: Cindy Simon Rosenthal…

…On the barriers women face entering politics:

"We do know from the research that women are less likely to think about opportunities in politics and public service until later. They’re often pulled in by issues related to their families or their neighborhoods.

"We also know that women in politics often doubt their qualifications and they’re less likely to be recruited by persons currently in office or party leaders – what we in the political science business call the ‘political elites.’

"So if you think about it, if you haven’t thought about running, if you doubt your qualifications and think you need a little more experience, and no one’s asking you run, then that becomes a pretty tall order in recruiting women and filling the pipeline with more women candidates.”

...On her struggles as mayor of Norman:

“I think the first issue is people underestimate you. People will doubt your ability to do the job. That’s not an uncommon experience for women in politics and as a consequence, women generally are extremely well-prepared when they come to the dais or the floor of a legislative body. They do their homework and they’re ready to counter and overcome those lower expectations.”

…On whether the 2016 election will encourage more women to run for public office:

“This moment is a challenging one because unlike the so-called Year of the Woman - the 1992 election – the spark that motivated women to get involved was the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court and the way in which the Senate Judiciary Committee handled the testimony of Anita Hill. In that instance, the election cycle was right in front of us, and so the energy and motivation to get involved had a clear target.

"We’re sitting here in 2017 with the first national elections a good year-and-a-half away, so it’s hard to know whether or not that same energy or excitement that we’re seeing among women will be able to sustain itself through this longer election cycle.”

Cindy Simon Rosenthal will be at Texas Woman’s University Wednesday, March 29 for a public forum on women in politics. KERA’s Krys Boyd will be moderating. 

Former KERA staffer Krystina Martinez was an assistant producer. She produced local content for Morning Edition and She also produced The Friday Conversation, a weekly series of conversations with North Texas newsmakers. Krystina was also the backup newscaster for the Texas Standard.
Rick Holter was KERA's vice president of news. He oversaw news coverage on all of KERA's platforms – radio, digital and television. Under his leadership, KERA News earned more than 200 local, regional and national awards, including the station's first two national Edward R. Murrow Awards. He and the KERA News staff were also part of NPR's Ebola-coverage team that won a George Foster Peabody Award, broadcasting's highest honor.