"A Pennsylvania Problem": Why don't more women hold elected office?

"A Pennsylvania Problem": Why don't more women hold elected office?

"It's about time, a long time coming, but we have a lot further to go... but it's a good step forward," said Dr. Jean Harris.

2018 is seeing historic wins for women across the country, and Pennsylvania is no exception.

The Keystone State currently has no women in the U.S. Congress, but after this midterm, Pennsylvania will now send four women to Washington.

There have been seven total since 1940.

"Women are running this year for a whole bunch of reasons, and many of them are just really dissatisfied with the direction our government is going in," said Dr. Harris.

She's a political science and women and gender studies professor at the University of Scranton.

She says Pennsylvania is currently ranked 49th for female representation in Congress.

"Part of it has to do with our traditional political culture - elites and men are the 'appropriate' people to be in government," said Dr. Harris. "It wasn't until pretty recently that a higher percentage of women were registered to vote than men in this state, and we were one of the last state's to get there."

For state legislatures, Pennsylvania is ranked 39th by the Center for American Women and Politics - with women making up just 19.4% of all representatives and senators.

State Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-116) is one of 42 women out of 203 people in the state house.

As for the state senate, there are seven women serving out of 50 total seats.

"It's very male dominated, so even when you look at leadership in the house of representatives, we have two women who are in leadership out of a larger group, there's less women that are chairs of committees," said Toohil.

She feels how women see themselves in office is starting to change.

"We have 15 brand new women, republican and democrat, that are going to be serving in the house with me this year, that are completely new, that did replace one of our male colleagues," Toohil said.

Dr. Harris says a big hurdle is getting political parties to recruit women to run, and recognize them as solid candidates.

"Women who are qualified always think they need more qualifications. And when they get a chance to compare their qualifications, they realize they certainly are qualified. It's an esteem thing - they look out and they don't see any women in government, so they're already going to question, is that really the right place for me?"

"It's good that women are finding their voice, because being a mother is a qualifier, having a sick child or worrying about the education for your children, that's something that qualifies you to have a voice in politics," said Toohil.

"It is a snowball effect - once women see women in government, they're more inclined to think about running themselves," said Dr. Harris.

The University of Scranton will be hosting a Ready To Run program next weekend on November 17th, with the goal of helping women recognize the qualifications and other skills to run for office.

Pennsylvania has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate.

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