Although women comprise 50 percent of the American population, they hold less than a quarter of state legislative seats, less than a fifth of congressional seats, and only one in 10 governorships.
What causes that underrepresentation in politics and how can it be changed? Those are the questions Louisville filmmaker Kiley Lane Parker sought to answer in her 2014 documentary “Raising Ms. President.” Parker discussed her work on KET’s Connections with Renee Shaw.
The film features interviews with current female officeholders, aspiring politicians, and young women as they discuss politics and leadership issues. While sexism and child-rearing considerations are factors, Parker says she found two deeper reasons why more women don’t seek elective office: They lack political ambitions and they aren’t confident in their qualifications to lead.
“We don’t socialize our young women to see themselves as leaders,” Parker explains.
That messaging begins from the earliest days of childhood, Parker says, when girls get dolls and kitchen sets to play with, whereas boys get superhero figures and fire trucks. As they get older, young women face a barrage of influences that emphasize beauty over substance.
“I definitely think that society puts an expectation on women to be flawless and to be perfect,” Parker says. “And I think overall the media actually does more of a disservice than the actual population.”
Pushing Back on ‘Women’s Issues’
Parker contends some social and political pundits spun feminism into something negative and stereotyped feminists as man-haters who don’t want to have children. She’s also critical of the media’s tendency to focus on so-called women’s issues when covering female politicians. She says historically women political candidates did highlight things like education or reproductive rights, but Parker argues those issues affect all Americans regardless of gender.
The filmmaker says she does see signs of hope as she travels the country promoting her film. Parker says younger women she meets seem to have more confidence in themselves and their abilities. She attributes this shift to a variety of organizations that help girls develop their leadership skills.
Parker also credits training and mentor groups like Emerge Kentucky for encouraging more women to get into the political arena. She says the Democratic Party has traditionally been better about recruiting female candidates, but that the GOP is catching up.
“I also think that Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann and the Tea Party giving women a space that they previously didn’t find in the Republican Party really put Republican women more in the frontline for politics,” Parker says.
A Future Politician Is Born
Parker says making “Raising Ms. President” was a huge journey that was a departure from her previous video work. “As a journalist, I was always saying I’m a passive observer,” Parker says. But with this project she had to raise the funds, write and direct the production, work distribution deals for the finished film, and make public appearances to lead post-show discussions. She’s also launched a Twitter hashtag, #herpoliticaljourney, to foster more exploration of the issue through social media.
Parker worked on the documentary with her husband and co-producer, George Parker. The project even got put on hold for a time while Kiley Parker was pregnant. She jokes that their daughter, now about a year and a half old, won’t be forced to run for president. But Parker does hope her film will inspire more women to enter politics whether at the local level or for a national office.
“When women run, they typically win,” Parker says. “So we’re trying to just get women to run because they probably will win… [and] I do think that as more women do start to run and win, that more women will start to say, ‘Hey, I can do that, too.’”