Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Biden's Cabinet of Role Models

Women's representation in the political arena has long been subpar. Women are consistently in the minority in both elected and appointed positions. The lack of women in office has multiple causes, such as bad recruitment methods and gender bias against women campaigning, but the recent election of President Biden and Vice President Harris may succeed in addressing one cause, namely the lack of role models for young women.    

President Biden made many promises while campaigning in 2020, one of which was to have a very diverse cabinet, one that ‘looks like America’. Biden's nominations for his cabinet have so far proven to be both more diverse and have more overall experienced than either of his two predecessor's picks. President Biden has also made several historical firsts when it comes to his cabinet including the first openly gay secretary (Pete Buttigie), the first female secretary of the treasury (Janet Yellen), and the first ever Native American secretary (Deb Haaland). 

President Biden's cabinet breakdown compared to that of President Obama and President Trump according to NPR:

When recent events demonstrated the need for more protection and representation for Asian American women Senator Tammy Duckworth called out the lack of nominees of Asian American descent, and the Biden administration was quick to reassure the Senator. In the response the White House stated that President Biden would elevate Asian American voices, appoint an Asian American senior White House official "to represent the community," and secure confirmation for Asian American nominees. Demonstrating the administration's commitment to increasing the number of minorities in politics to act as role models, not just for women but for many traditionally underrepresented communities.  

The Role Model Effect

President Biden's cabinet choices are feeding into the role model effect in that the number of firsts he has created increased the level of attention that the media gives to the appointed female politicians. The more the media talks about women in politics the more likely young women are to have discussions at home about politics as a possible career path. It has been shown that when conversations in the home revolve around politics young women show an increased anticipation for political involvement.

Normally, to have a positive effect on young women's interest in politics female candidates have to prove their viability, women who have no chance of winning have less positive media coverage, and less news coverage overall. In the case of presidential appointments, the struggle to be a viable candidate is removed. The appointed women do not have to publicly face as many obstacles as women who run for office. Obstacles such as the double bind, where women are punished politically if they can not balance the aggression required to run with the need to appear traditionally feminine, that other women face while campaigning can discourage young women from becoming involved in politics. 

When women run for office, especially if it is a position not normally held by a woman there is likely to be an increase in news coverage, but to fully achieve the role model effect the success of the role model must seem attainable for others. The good thing about presidential appointments acting as role models is that the women in these appointed positions come from a diverse set of backgrounds that shows the next generation of female leaders that their interests can help them become successful in politics. Appointees like Avril Haines who has history in the intelligence community, Jennifer Granholm who has experience in the auto industry, and Deb Haaland who has history in earth-friendly business practices demonstrate that women can make it far in politics by combining their interests with public service without having to campaign or become lifelong politicians. 

It is impossible to tell what the effects of so many women in positions of power in the federal government will be. It is possible that some of these women will be replaced or will not perform well in their office. However, there has already been a lot of media coverage of the nomination and senate approval of President Biden's cabinet, and the high offices combined with the medias fascination with the breaking of glass ceilings means that there will be a lot of political conversations in the next few years that could convince many teenaged girls to pursue politics in the near future. 


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