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Rutgers Professor Talks the “Great Divide” at Bangor Public Library

Shauna Shames, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University in Camden, New Jersey, gave a talk at the Bangor Public Library this week titled, “The Great (Political) Divide: Why Women, Minorities, and Millenials are Underrepresented in Politics.”  The talk is part of the many lectures that will take place to celebrate Women’s History Month.

The talk, sponsored by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine and League of Women Voters of Maine, presented Shames’ research on why millennials, women and people of color “reject political careers.” The talk was the first of her academic tour which took her to Colby College as well as Bates College in support of her book, “Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters”. Shames’ research studies the political ambition and efficacy, or the feeling that one can affect what the government does, of various groups in society.

Shames started the evening stating that the United States ranks 99th in the world in terms of women’s representation in the legislature and declared 2010 as the first year that the number of women decreased in the legislature. “And what we saw in 2016 was something of a breakthrough but also something of a backlash,” Shames said about the 2016 general election.

Shames conducted her research with students from Harvard University and found that, despite race and ethnicity, women have lower levels of political ambition. “They just seem less likely to want to run… And you have to imagine, these are the most ambitious young people in the country,” Shames said.

“We’re in a negative feedback cycle where you don’t see a lot of women in office, and it won’t inspire as much political ambition in the next generation,” Shames said. “And that means we’re losing some incredible talent: talent we need for the world.”

“Women’s lives are still structured around their gender and their vulnerability so much more than men,” Shames said. “The more we look at this as activists, but also as academics, the more we understand completely logical reasons for why women might opt out and might not run [for office]. The problems are systemic — the gender system, the racial system, the economic system — but the consequences fall on the shoulders of the individual women who would run [for office].” Later in her talk, Shames stated, “The biggest barriers to more women running [for office] are structural, rather than psychological.”

Shames acknowledges the uptick in the number of women running for political offices after the election of President Trump in 2016. “Other women and girls’ political participation often increases when you see a woman hold elected office,” she said.

“The conclusion is we need more women in politics for lots of reasons: to help women, but also men, children and elderly… to help communities, to make the world a better place, generally,” Shames said.

Shames received her Bachelor of Arts from Harvard University in social studies and women’s studies. She received her Ph.D. in government from her alma mater and now teaches undergraduate courses at Rutgers University on American politics, including the politics of minority groups and political methodology,  as well as courses in women and politics, first-year writing, identity politics, race and ethnicity, public policy and futuristic fiction. Her research mainly concentrates on American political behavior with a focus on race, gender and politics.

The next event scheduled for Women’s History Month is on March 20 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the North Pod of the Memorial Union.  The event is a celebration of Women’s History Month, and the event is open to the public.

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