Gender and Development

How Democracy Has Failed Feminism In the United States

How Democracy Has Failed Feminism in the United States


The United States is a full-grown democracy and a role model for democratization in other regions, yet it has not been able to create an inclusive society nor has it reduced the gender gap. The gender gap continues to remain wide, while women are continuously marginalized in the workforce, even more so in politics. It is, therefore, imperative to understand that a democratic society has not resulted in a fair political playing field for women.

The word democracy comes from the Greek demokratia and means “power to the people.” Despite the limitations of the first Greek democracies, in which the capacity to vote was limited to land-owning men, the Athenian polis built the base for a participatory political and socio-cultural system. Centuries later, in the wake of its American counterpart, the French Revolution inspired the contemporary era, which has been dominated by the mainstream ideas of democracy and capitalism as the future of civilization and the guardians of progress. Liberté, égalité, fraternité have become the fundamental values of which democracies defend and pursue. However, if a democracy has not fully achieved equality, can we consider it a fully grown democracy?

The United States, one of the richest and more developed countries in the world –a nation with one of the longest democratic traditions – has not effectively been able to reduce the gender gap. The United States ranked 28th in the 2015 Global Gender Index, which benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, political, education and health criteria.

In terms of economic prospects per capita, the estimated gross national income in the United States for men in 2014 was $63,158 per year, while for women it was $43,042. Women are still underrepresented at every level in the corporate world. In the corporate world, men are promoted at 30 percent higher rates than women during their early career stages, while entry-level women are more likely to spend five or more years in the same role in comparison to men.

Globally, only 22.8% of parliamentarians are women. With only 105 women holding congressional seats, the US, at present is only doing worse than Afghanistan. It is not only about the representation of women in government, but also how salaries are distributed. As per a 2016 analysis of gender data in the US federal government, if men and women were evenly distributed among federal jobs and pay ranges, women would be expected to make more than men about half the time. In addition, women make more than men only 41 percent of the time. Moreover, the longer a woman has worked for the federal government, the less likely she is to see pay parity with men.

During the 2016 presidential election, questions of gender became a matter of popular discourse, given that the first woman to be nominated for president was running against a man who made openly misogynistic comments.  Many would consider Donald Trump’s victory as dramatic evidence that America is not yet a gender-inclusive society.

All of these matters raise the question of why American democracy has not lived up to its ideals. Democracy’s legitimacy as a system is based on the hope for equality for all. Citizens must have faith in the power of their voices to change things; in the power of their decision-making to put someone in government; in the power of equal education to bring us equal opportunities. Citizens had faith that liberté, égalité, fraternité were not only possible ideals, but ones that worked. The truth, however, seems different. According to a Pew poll, only 56% of American citizens think there is a lot they can do to influence the US government while 42% of Americans think the opposite. If the United States is to achieve true gender equality, it must remind itself of the purpose that a democracy serves- liberty, equality and fraternity.

Belen Presas Mata is a journalist and researcher, born and raised in Spain. She earned her Master’s in Global Affairs from New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Her work focuses on questions of European identity and globalization.

Please note that opinions expressed in this article are solely those of our contributors, not of Political Insights, which takes no institutional positions.

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