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Jennifer Lawless Urges Women to Run for Political Office

“Women are just as likely to win an election for political office as men—there just simply are not as many female candidates,” said Jennifer Lawless in a lecture on Thursday. Lawless, a professor at Brown University and nationally recognized advocate for women in politics, spoke to students and faculty at Kemper Auditorium this Thursday. Her speech addressed the core reasons as to why women don’t run for office in America’s current social and political environment. The lecture was part of a new initiative of guest speakers hosted by the Brace Center for Gender Studies. Kathleen Dalton, Co-Director of the Brace Center, said, “[Lawless] is famous for her discussions about women in politics. We came up with the idea to invite her after her name repeatedly resurfaced as a key speaker in this field.” Throughout her presentation, Lawless called for audience members to consider a job in politics, as it would allow women and men alike to determine important national issues. In 2001, Lawless conducted a survey of 4,000 men and women in professions that naturally lead to a career in office, such as political activism or non-governmental political work. Lawless’s research led her to conclude that family responsibilities, perception of qualifications and lack of recruitment were the three main reasons why women do not consider running for office. On family responsibilities, Lawless said, “Women are working at least two jobs. They do a whole day’s worth of work at their jobs and come home to another job.” When asked what she would suggest in order to reduce female disinterest due to family responsibilities, Lawless said she would implement family-friendly legislature, such as day care centers in office spaces. Lawless also found in her research that women believed they were not qualified to run for political office. According to her survey on men and women with the same political credentials, nearly 50 percent of women claimed to lack the necessary qualifications for office. But nearly 70 percent of all surveyed males believed they had the credentials. The fact that only 16 percent of United States Senators are female, coupled with the results of her survey, prompted Lawless to write her book, ‘It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office.’ In 2006, Lawless challenged the incumbent Congress representative of Rhode Island. Although she ended up losing by a margin of 3,000 voters, she said the campaign was “one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.” Although she faced scrutiny and criticism in the race, Lawless said that along the way she heard compelling stories that made the campaign worthwhile. Lawless described the 111-mile walk she made across Rhode Island in the middle of winter for her campaign. The stories she heard from a pizza shop owner and a soccer mom, among others, made her trip unique. Maria Ferris ’09, a board member of Women’s Forum, said, “It was enlightening to hear such a confident and articulate woman speak about issues at are current and important.” Kira Wyckoff ’11 said, “It was interesting to hear why women don’t run rather than why they aren’t get elected.” Malin Adams ’09, School President, stressed how Lawless’s message was important to Andover’s political positions as well. He said, “As we are beginning are elections for [School President] it is evident that there are more males than females, though a candidate from either gender would be equally likely to win.” Alana Rush, who is coordinating the election for School President alongside Adams, said, “Lawless’s talk was encouraging. Hopefully more girls will consider running.”