David Bernstein over at the Boston Phoenix has me all fired up today. He has written a blog post entitled “The GOP Is Institutionally Sexist” arguing that there is a “regular, long-term, systemic lack of opportunities for women to advance within the institution.” As a Republican woman, I can’t let this one go without responding.
Let me begin by saying I have certainly come across sexist Republicans. I have also come across sexist Democrats. And I have a whole bunch of thoughts about women in politics and voting for women just because they’re women which will have to wait for another time. Right now I’d just like to address the problems I see with Bernstein’s argument.
Bernstein’s argument rests entirely on the numbers of Republican women who currently hold and/or are running for office at both the state and federal levels. There are too few Republican women running and in office, he says, and fewer than on the Democratic side, and the only explanation can be institutional sexism. Bernstein fails to mention that a larger percentage of the Democratic Party is female than of the Republican Party, so Republicans are drawing from a smaller pool from the start.
Next, his analogy between the Republican Party and a private company is erroneous. A company has complete control over who it hires. A political party does not have complete control over which candidates are elected. One could argue that the parties do have some control over which candidates run for office because they can recruit candidates and either encourage or discourage candidates from running. Bernstein offers no evidence that Republican women are approaching the Republican Party structure (either national, state or local) with an interest in running for office and are being discouraged from doing so. If X number of women approached the Republican Party about running for office and only 0.2X actually went on to become candidates, then a case could be made for institutional sexism. But Bernstein doesn’t provide those numbers (if they’re even available).
Bernstein also doesn’t address the possibility that maybe Republican women seek to run for office disproportionately less. Maybe there are just fewer women coming forward to run on the Republican side than men, or than there are women coming forward on the Democratic side. Now, a perception of the Party’s sexism by Republican women could contribute to this, but there could be other reasons as well. Perhaps the real or perceived barriers to running as a Republican woman (or just as a woman) - whether coming from the media, the public, or the party - lead women to take a pass on running before they even approach the Party.
Or maybe Republican women just don’t have as much of an interest in holding elected office. Maybe they prefer to be politically active in other ways (like blogging!) and the Party couldn’t get them to run even if it begged.
Bernstein does assert that "there is no evidence" that voters just don't vote for Republican women when they are on the ballot. Ok. I won’t ask him to prove a negative, but how extensive was his search for evidence? Are there studies which show female Republican candidates are treated the same as male Republican candidates (or female Democratic candidates)? How about how Republican women are treated by the media? Anecdotally, the way Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and others have been treated suggests some level of bias that is not originating with the Republican apparatus.
I have no idea if any of what I've suggested is the case, but Bernstein doesn't acknowledge or disprove any of these fairly reasonable possibilities, simply dismissing other explanations with a sweeping, “there are plenty of possible contributing factors to the enormously gender-tilted GOP outcomes, but none that offer anything close to clear prevailing justification.” We’ll just have to take his word that this is so because he doesn’t offer any data to bolster his claim.
I’m offering a lot of generalities and assumptions here, but my point is that Bernstein does not provide any actual evidence to prove his thesis that the GOP is institutionally sexist. He seems set on the idea that Republicans are women-haters, which certainly suggests some sort of bias could be at play on his end.