Are Women in Politics More Honest?

by Clarence Page

What, I wonder, explains the gender gap in political corruption?

Women make up almost 20 percent of the current Congress, according to the Center for American Women and Politics, but they don't come anywhere near that proportion of Congress' scandals.

Will it take breaking news of a female lawmaker doing something truly stupid like former Rep. Anthony Weiner's tweeting self-portraits of his private parts to strangers to know we are beginning to achieve gender equality?

This thought comes to mind with news of a new study by political science researchers at Rice University and titled " 'Fairer Sex' or Purity Myth? Corruption, Gender and Institutional Context."

Its analysis of data from countries around the world finds the gender gap in corruption to be an international phenomenon, interestingly in democratic countries more than in dictatorships and other autocracies.

In democratic countries with generally low levels of corruption, write Rice University's Justin Esarey and Gina Chirillo, the study's authors, women are less likely to be corrupt and less likely to tolerate corruption than their male counterparts.

Recruiting more women into politics in deeply corrupt countries probably would not decrease corruption, Esarey told Science Daily; but in less corrupt countries, such recruitment might work wonders in keeping sticky fingers out of the public till.

Why? Hanna Rosin, author of "The End of Men And the Rise of Women," recently compared the pressures on women in high positions to those of Jackie Robinson, the first black player to break Major League Baseball's color line. Warned by his team's owner to set a good example, he wasn't about to gamble on any behavior that wasn't worth it.

Small wonder, then, that during October's budget stalemate and government shutdown, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, suggested that the whole mess might go away if the guys sat back and let women settle it.

"If we put all the women, Republican and Democrat, in the House together," the Florida congresswoman told MSNBC's "Morning Joe," "the consensus from all of us is that we would get this done in a few hours,"

When fellow guest Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, jokingly asked whether the group might include the Sarah Palin, Wasserman Schultz did not waver.

"I would argue that even if Sarah Palin were in the room, ... we could find a way to get to yes," she replied, "because that's usually women's goal,"

That's not an outlandish thought, considering the best-sellers as varied as Deborah Tannen's "You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation" and John Gray's "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" that have been written about such gender differences. Men want to get the last word, experts say; women want to get a mutual agreement.

Yet I don't want to over-generalize. The very notion that women are geared toward reason, compromise and agreement can be the kiss of death in today's polarized Washington. Nevertheless, having been denied access to power for so long, numerous women legislators have worked diligently to make up for lost time.

"Gender isn't an absolute predictor of political behavior," cautioned Rebecca Sive, a Chicago public affairs strategist and author of "Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House."

"Women win office the same way men do," she told me in an email exchange. "They get more votes than the other guy. Once there, they bring a different perspective to the decision-making table."

As examples, Sive mentioned the Paycheck Fairness Act that Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) introduced this year and the Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D., N.Y.) recent bill to improve sexual assault prosecutions in the military.

Republican women are stepping up, too. After House Republicans forced a partial government shutdown in a failed attempt to repeal President Barack Obama's health care plan, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, significantly broke ranks to suggest a practical compromise: a "pause" in Obamacare's implementation so a bipartisan group could try to fix its problems.

Nice tries like that may help explain why women have been falling behind the guys in corruption scandals. They're too busy trying to get things done.


Available at The End of Men And the Rise of Women



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Are Women in Politics More Honest?