A panel of women involved in politics discussed the varying role of gender in politics and in the upcoming presidential election in an event Tuesday night at the Davidson Conference Center.
The Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, in conjunction with California Women Lead and the USC Women’s Student Assembly, presented the event, which included student panelists from the USC College Democrats and the USC College Republicans.
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, said women play a vital role in elections, particularly married women, who tend to be the largest group of swing voters. Candidates target this group’s vote by campaigning on specific issues, according to Schnur.
“If Mitt Romney is successful in convincing married female voters that they should cast their ballot primarily on the basis of economic issues like jobs and taxes, then Mitt Romney will be elected president of the United States,” Schnur said. “If Barack Obama is successful in convincing the same married female voters that in addition to the economy, they should also consider a broader range of social and cultural issues, then he will be elected president.”
Panelists also discussed the general response of women to the increasingly negative presidential campaign.
Rachel Michelin, executive director of California Women Lead, said that women generally dislike the negativity in campaigns and would rather focus on the ways the issues relate to them.
Michelin said that female candidates are often forced into negative campaigns because of the precedent set by male candidates.
“Unfortunately, as women, we play by the political rules that were written by men, and until we, as women, change those rules, we’re always pushing ourselves into that arena,” Michelin said. “As women, we need to start changing those rules.”
Michelin said that women in politics still face major challenges in receiving equal treatment among their male counterparts.
The panelists also discussed the background of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women” comment from the second presidential debate.
According to Michelin, the Massachusetts program that Romney was referring to was based on a 1990s California program to include more women in state appointments and had an overall positive effect.
“Some of those women in Massachusetts went on to run for office and apply for higher level positions,” Michelin said. “I think that’s something that, as women, we should be applauding.”
The treatment of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compared with that of the male candidates also came up in the discussion. All panelists agreed that female candidates were often subject to negative comments about their appearance and ability to balance their familial obligations with political work.
Maddy Lansky, president of the USC College Republicans, said a generational gap doesn’t allow younger voters to recognize the struggles of women in politics, which could be this generation’s downfall.
“We are told that we can do whatever want, we can have whatever job we want, if we work hard enough we’ll get there,” Lansky said. “I think that it’s good that we believe that so thoroughly, but it can also be a problem when we don’t understand the challenges that are there — because I don’t think we appreciate the women running for office.”