Lots of differences separate the two sexes, but for the most part, the question of why more women don't run for office isn't one of them. An informal survey of penis-laden political know-it-alls mostly echoes the answers of their female counterparts: Money, families, and institutional barriers keep ladies out of races.
But the men did raise one additional factor.
"Women aren't as attracted to conflict," says Washington State Republican Party chair Kirby Wilbur. "The name-calling is probably a deterrent to all decent people," says Wilbur, whose long career as a conservative-talk-radio host allows him to speak with authority on name-calling. "But especially to women."
Democratic consultant John Wyble doesn't disagree. "If you're new to politics, your first lens on politics is a DC lens," he says, and "given the toxicity in DC, it's a real hard time to get people to commit."
So are women the gentler, less-combative sex? Washington State Democratic Party chair Dwight Pelz—a preeminent name-caller in his own right—sure doesn't seem to think so. "When I was in the legislature, we had very, very strong women. We had tough women," Pelz fondly recalls. "One of the scariest moments in the state senate was a debate between Linda Smith and Mary Margaret Haugen. All the boy senators got under their desks."
Pelz thinks the difference between male and female politicians is generally overblown. "Was it a great day for politics when the secretary of state was an African American woman who wanted to kill peasants in the Middle East?" Pelz asks rhetorically. "Condoleezza Rice was an imperialist and a war criminal who lied to the American people about the reasons to go to war in Iraq," Pelz says bluntly. "Yeah... women have come a long way."
Of course, women have come a long way, especially in the Democratic Party, even if they've given up some ground in recent legislative elections. But the real question Pelz seems to raise is: Does having more women in politics end up changing politics?
"We need more Republican women in politics, not just more women," insists Wilbur, pointing to Secretary of State Kim Wyman as the sort of competent female face the GOP desperately needs. "I don't know that it would change our policies and what we do," admits Wilbur, "but it would change the image of our party."
But if recruiting women is more about changing image than changing policy, the more important question to ask about women in politics is: What's the point?