Would women have shut down the shutdown?

A recent MSNBC article poses the question that has seeped into multiple debates and discussions over the current government shutdown: would we be here today if more women were in Congress? Columnists Khimm and Taylor highlight the efforts by Republican and Democratic women senators to bring members together and toward a solution to both re-open the government and address the debt ceiling; from potluck dinners and pizza parties to the Collins proposal, they note women’s willingness and ability to use personal relationships for political problem-solving. Beyond the anecdotal evidence from the past few weeks, why else might we expect that more women in office might help to avert or assuage political gridlock? 1. Women enter office motivated to get things done. In CAWP’s latest survey of state legislators, women reported that their top motivation to run for office was a concern about one or two public policy issues. The top motivation for male legislators, however, was a longstanding desire to be involved in politics. As a result, women come into office with a greater desire for policy achievements than political wins. 2. Women lead differently than men. Research has shown that women often bring more inclusive, democratic, and collaborative styles of leadership to both public and private sectors.[1] In politics and government, multiple studies show that women look to facilitate – rather than control – discussion,  and they approach policymaking in a less confrontational way than their male counterparts.[2] One study of mayors takes a particular look at the budgeting process. Weikart et al. (2006) found female mayors were far more willing than male mayors to change the budget process, be more inclusive, and seek broader participation in budget debates. Women mayors were also more willing to admit to fiscal problems and discuss solutions to fix them. 3. Women legislators are more responsive to their constituents. Multiple studies show that women legislators spend more time engaging and responding to constituents, providing greater access by citizens to the legislative process.[3] In a setting where 91 percent of the electorate sees the shutdown as a serious problem, this attention to constituent demands is particularly important to shaping members’ willingness to compromise and seek solutions. 4. Women have built strong bipartisan relationships amidst hyper-partisanship. When the number of women in the U.S. Senate reached 20 in January 2013, Diane Sawyer sat with the current class of women senators and discussed how their ability to work across party lines might be related to their efforts to build personal relationships. Known for their regularly-scheduled dinners together, the women in the Senate have translated personal friendships into professional collaboration on issues like sexual assault in the military, domestic energy, and – most recently – the federal budget. This cross-aisle collaboration is not new to women in Congress. For example, it was a bipartisan group of women members who fought the National Institutes of Health to include women in clinical research trials in the early 1990s. While women – like men – differ on many issues, their experience working together on some issues provides a foundation upon which they can productively dialogue on the issues most important today. As the government shutdown appears to be nearing its end, it has raised a number of questions about how we might avert a repeat performance. Getting more women elected might just be a start.
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[3] Beck (2001); Carey, Neimi, and Powell (1998); Epstein, Neimi, and Powell (2005); CAWP (2001) also finds that men and women state legislators believe that women legislators provide increased access to the legislature for traditionally disadvantaged groups in American society, such as racial and ethnic minorities and the economically disadvantaged.