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Government & Politics

Women and Power: Changing the Narrative

She Persisted panel

The Women & Politics Institute at the American University School of Public Affairs and the Women in Public Service Project hosted a recent discussion about the challenges female candidates face and how many are leveraging social media to get their messages out.

Despite evidence of the benefits of gender-based representation, women remain heavily underrepresented in government. Just what role traditional and new media play as more women seek traction on the campaign trail was the focus of the event.

Lucia Di Meco, Global Fellow at the Wilson Center, presented findings from her forthcoming paper, “#ShePersisted: Women, Politics and Power in the New Media World.” Women face a “double-edged sword” with social media, she explained. While trolls bombard women’s online platforms, Di Meco’s research shows women politicians are able to use social media to drive actual policy change more effectively, compared to their male counterparts.

Following Di Meco’s remarks, experts in the field addressed how the women running in the current U.S. presidential election might benefit from using social media and the authenticity it brings to constituents. The panelists included Christine Matthews, President, Bellwether Research and Consulting; Crystal Patterson, Global Civics Partnership Manager, Facebook; Jenna Golden, President, Golden Strategies, Former Head of Political Sales at Twitter; and Rebecca Schuller, Executive Director, Winning for Women. The panel was moderated by WPI Executive Director Betsy Fischer Martin.

"Hearing the message straight from you is the most important currency women have as candidates," said Patterson about the importance of using social media in a campaign at the event.
Jessica Francis, SPA/MA ’20, graduate research assistant in the Women & Politics Institute, said there needs to be more focus on how women are successfully leveraging social media to highlight their views and responsiveness to their electorate.  

“In a time when constituents are concerned with the integrity of politicians writ large, women politicians should continue to capitalize on their social media presence to illustrate their policy proposals, motivations for change, and their willingness to work on issues of concern to their voters,” Francis said. “For so long, the narrative about women in politics has been written from the perspective of men in power, but these social networks offer a platform for women to reclaim their stories and shed truth on the mission in which they believe.”

Di Meco’s research finds traditional media remains mostly an obstacle for women's political ambitions and the coverage of women in politics is still heavily biased against them both in quantity and in quality. To change the situation, she suggests taking steps such as increasing diversity at all levels of decision-making in journalism and technology; using technological innovations to track and eliminate bias and harassment against women in politics; and investing in women’s political participation and candidate training programs globally.