Confidence, Ambition and Passion for Politics

Dear Ms. Acevedo, Did you know that despite women making up half of this country’s population, only 24 percent of our federal political representatives are women? Or that twenty-two states have never once elected a female senator? Or that only six of the fifty states are currently governed by a woman? We are living in the so-called “year of the woman,” and yet this nation still has an incredibly long way to come before it reaches anything resembling gender parity in politics. I believe that the underrepresentation of women in elected political office, at both the state and national levels, is tragic because it silences the voices of women, and also because it casts a blight on the United States’ once pristine reputation as a nation founded in the promise of equality and fair political representation.

Women are proven to be flexible leaders who seek consensus over aimless partisan conflict. Now, more than ever, it is essential that they be given a platform and an equal say. When women run for political office, they win their elections at the same rate as men do, so the root of this gross gender disparity does not lie in failed campaigns by female candidates. It is the decision to run in the first place that poses the problem for would-be female senators, congressional representatives, and governors. You see, girls are trained from childhood that the very qualities voters look for in their candidates—ambition, an assertive, commanding presence—are unattractive and off-putting in women. Furthermore, self-doubt and self-deprecation are ingrained by society into young girls, while boys are taught to be confident and carefree.

A “confidence gap” forms even before adulthood between boys and girls, with boys overwhelmingly more sure of themselves and their abilities than girls are of theirs. This confidence gap manifests itself on the campaign trail and is the reason that men still occupy over three quarters of all federal, elected offices. Of a woman and a man with the same experience and qualifications, the man is more likely to consider himself ready for public office, while the woman is far more likely to decide that she “isn’t ready yet” or “isn’t the best person for the job.” In this twisted, disturbing way, the most powerful political positions in the United States are populated by confident (overconfident?) men, and equally capable women are sidelined by a voice in their ear telling them they are not good enough. This is your opportunity to play role in silencing that voice permanently.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York attributes her decision to run for office in part to the team sports she played when she was young. Other female senators cite encouragement from role models and group activities that taught them skills like collaboration and leadership as factors that gave them the confidence they needed to run for and win their seats. The pattern that emerges is this: girls set high goals and achieve them when they have strong support systems and are exposed to situations in which they are treated as powerful and full of potential. It is obvious that the path to political gender parity begins with teaching the next generation of girls that they, just as much as any boy, are the future leaders of America. As the CEO of the Girl Scouts, you are in a unique position to encourage confidence, ambition, and a passion for politics in a massive group of young women who respect and look up to you. I implore you to use your voice and affect change: teach girls that they can be polite and sweet, but they can also be scrappy, curious, intense, daring and strong. A few decades from now, you may find yourself represented by one of them in Congress.Sincerely,

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