FINDING OUR WAY: WOMEN'S LIVED EXPERIENCES LEADING TO THE LEGISLATURES OF PENNSYLVANIA AND MARYLAND

Open Access
Author:
McCormick Higgins, Judith Ann
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Degree:
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
November 12, 2004
Committee Members:
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Chair/Co-Chair
  • Fred Michael Schied, Committee Member
  • Alison Alene Carr Chellman, Committee Member
  • Carol Ruth Nechemias, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Women legislators
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • women politicians
Abstract:
ABSTRACT The purpose of this study is to understand the meanings that individual elected women in Maryland and Pennsylvania¡¦s legislatures give to lived experiences on their pathway through life that lead them to overcome recognized and documented barriers, as well as maximize opportunities, in order to decide to run for the state legislature. To execute this study, I used a qualitative research paradigm and conducted in-depth interviews with eight elected, currently seated women legislators from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Maryland. For the participants in my study, the lived experiences that led these women to decide to run reflected the following meanings: „X Personal needs and ambitions are part of the decision making process „X Gendered messages are present, but less influential than other factors. „X Political party influences are present, but of less import, than other factors. „X Meanings demonstrate very contextual and generational influences. „X There is no one single pathway to the state legislature for women. In 2005, women hold less than 24% of the nation¡¦s legislative seats, and generally, their numbers are increasing overall. This is not true, however, within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As of 2005, the Commonwealth now ranks a dismal 46th in the nation for the percentage of women legislators. This study found that addressing this trend requires a two-pronged approach of educational and socialization efforts if a more representative and democratic society are to be achieved. Educational efforts need to include, but not be limited to recognizing and encouraging women¡¦s participation and contributions to non-traditional career fields, including that of politics, to eliminate the sense of being an ¡§outsider.¡¨ Socialization, as the second component, requires recognizing the existence of female centered social capital. Encouraging women to enter the potential pool of political aspirants requires society to acknowledge and value the unique roles and relationships that many women hold as participants in both the public and private domain. As a result, in its¡¦ gendered state, this gendered social capital is often undervalued and ignored as viable currency as women decide whether or not to venture onto the varied pathways leading to the legislature.