Clarke Forum Spotlights Importance of Female Representation in Congress


Photo Courtesy of The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues

Amanda Wampler '24, Co-Associate Managing Editor

On Thursday, March 11, Kira Sanbonmatsu, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, spoke at a virtual Clarke Forum on the influence that women in Congress have and why it is important that women are well represented. Sanbonmatsu is a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP). She also co-authored the book A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Presence Matters, which discusses much of what she covered during her Clarke Forum lecture. 

According to The Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues’ website, Sanbonmatsu’s “research interests include “gender, race/ethnicity, parties, public opinion, and state politics.” She has authored four books in total, all of which focus on representation of women in government. 

Sanbonmatsu began her lecture by discussing the proportions of men to women in Congress. 

“We are at historic levels of women office holdings, women right now are at 27% of the US House, 24% of the US Senate, Statewide Elective Exec Offices at 30.6%which are offices such as governor, secretary of stateand State Legislature, women are at 30.9%” Sanbonmatsu quotes when discussing women’s office holdings in 2021. Additionally, she said that there are 47 women of color in the US House, and three women of color in the US Senate. 

In both 2018 and 2020, there was a notable spike in how many women ran for a position in Congress. Women running for political office oftentimes say that they have different goals than men who are running. Sanbonmatsu spoke with many women in Congress when conducting research for her book, which allowed for  noteworthy quotes about the views and ideas of women in Congress. 

Sanbonmatsu says, “More often than not, [the women in Congress who we interviewed for our book] said that they did not have a specific agenda, but rather they have a different perspective that can be translated over all issues.” With this perspective, the women in Congress felt as though they could tackle problems in a way that would be most beneficial for the majority of people.

Sanbonmatsu mentioned that women will often cross partisan lines, which is something that makes them different from men in congress. Additionally, though women face sexism as minorities in congress, they also are able to overcome it in unique ways. Sanbonmatsu quoted Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat from New Mexico, who said “I think too often particularly in this institution, women are underestimated…That can play to [our] strength…because they don’t think you can do it.”

“Dr. Kira Sanbonmatsu gave a talk that is so important for everyone who can vote or who will be able to vote to hear. We know that women are underrepresented in politics, but not many people care enough to change that. Dr. Sanbonmatsu’s research gives insight into why women in Congress think it is so important that they get elected, which translates into why we all should (and need to) elect more women to political office,” said Sophie Ackert ’22.

The lecture finished with Sanbonmatsu emphasizing the importance of women representation in Congress. Many women in Congress take pride in the fact that little girls everywhere are looking up to them in some way. Representative Susan Brooks, a Republican from Indiana, said, “I think that we have to change the mindset of not only girls in encouraging them to run or consider leadership; we have to change the minds of boys and boys who support girls.” 

Sanbonmatsu’s presentation is available on Clarke Forum’s YouTube channel.