Conversations with women can provide the most informative revelations for a man. I was in class last week sitting across from three freshman girls giggling and chattering. They were discussing a direr topic: life after college.
“What type of world leader do you want to be?” one girl asked.
“Most likely a combination between Beyoncé and Oprah,” the other responded. “Beyoncé is beautiful and a business woman, and Oprah runs stuff without being a bitch like Hillary and Palin.”
I then interrupted and nodded in agreement to their humorous delight. I initially thought they had made valid points. It was not until I later discussed this with senior women that I was put in check.
“Why does Hillary have to be a bitch?” a very concerned one replied.
What really made such women like Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin nuisances and entertainment titans such as Beyoncé and Oprah highly favorable? And as I contemplated this issue, I began to realize how many women here at Penn are underrepresented.
If Penn is to continue on “making history,” more women should be sought after for elected student government positions.
A lot of women at Penn are leaders, but they are elected internally and limited in their overall power. There has been no female class board president in at least a decade and counting. The Undergraduate Assembly has a female vice president. However, less than one-third of the body is composed of women (all Asian). So there is a collective lack of diversity in female representation as well.
This problem has been seen all throughout the Ivy League. A study released by Princeton University this March concluded that undergraduate women are less likely to run for top spots in campus organizations. “Many women on campus feel intense pressure to behave in socially acceptable ways,” the report stated. “This is not a Princeton-specific phenomenon.”
Many would argue that there is equal opportunity for student government participation. However, the hesitation to run can be based on what one observes. It could be pretty intimidating for people to campaign for any position when they don’t see anyone they can relate to in some sense.
It was often discouraging for me running for a freshman UA position when there was only one black person elected at the time. The black boy who joins the predominately white organization perhaps equates to the “bitch” who wants to join the male-dominated student government. Such attempts at social integration denote rejection at times, and that is where the stigma lies.
Today, as freshman elections conclude, Penn may have a chance to see a female class board president who knows very well what she is up against. College freshman Ariel Koren, the only woman out of six presidential candidates, said she believes “having someone to bring a female perspective to the table would be very cool.”
Her notions are felt across the board, as UA Vice President and Wharton senior Faye Cheng and UA Speaker and College senior Cynthia Ip (both former UA secretaries) lent their views on the matter.
“Traditional leadership positions tend to reflect traditional male roles,” Cheng stated. Ip suggested that perhaps many women at Penn “saw competition and backed out.” Both leaders are doing their part in addressing this issue by creating campus-wide socials to mobilize more women in exploring elected positions in student government.
Overall, if Penn is to continue to ensure an inclusive university experience, the gender gap of leadership representation must be taken into serious evaluation. Women are the majority of the admitted but the minority of the elected. It is not enough to accept just a few tokens of female leadership; we must gracefully adapt to gender leadership equality.
My advice to Penn women on campus is to not be afraid to take the “lead” in leadership. Just as you were intelligent enough to get accepted, you are equipped enough to win elections. Your attributes and unique talents are greatly needed. Otherwise, who would be the wisdom of student government when elected male leaders, such as I, lose our sanity?
Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago, Ill. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.