‘All-males club’: Election highlights gender gap in Associated Student Government

Of the eight candidates for ASG president and vice president, SESP junior Jo Lee is the only female. (Danny Kim not pictured)

Daily file photos

Of the eight candidates for ASG president and vice president, SESP junior Jo Lee is the only female. (Danny Kim not pictured)

Cat Zakrzewski, Campus Editor

The 2013 Associated Student Government election marks the third race in a row in which a female candidate has not vied for the organization’s highest position.

Of the eight candidates running on a presidential ticket this year, executive vice presidential candidate Jo Lee is the only woman. Women are underrepresented at top positions in ASG, likely because so few run.

Claire Lew (WCAS ’11) the organization’s last female president, won in 2010. No women ran for the top two posts in 2012, and Communication senior Jazzy Johnson unsuccessfully ran for executive vice president in 2011.

“Overall, this isn’t unique to student body president,” Lew said. “It’s more of a social construct we have around gender than it is Northwestern being unique.”

But the underrepresentation of women in ASG has an acute impact on the women who do get elected. Lauren Masterson, outgoing student groups vice president, said issues that arose in the “male-dominated” organization made her job more challenging.

“I have been definitely faced with situations that made me feel like a sexualized person or a stereotyped person,” Masterson said. “Sometimes I felt that people were uncomfortable with me being a more aggressive figure on the executive board.”

When the academic year began, Masterson was one of only three women serving in the 14 ASG executive board positions. This disproportionate representation is not new to the organization. Although close to 52 percent of the current student body is female, in almost 45 years of history, ASG has only seen 11 female presidents.

Alleged double standards within an ‘all males club’

Several ASG insiders have noted women are more underrepresented at the top of the organization than in the Senate. Of the 44 senators in the organization, 28 are men and 16 are women, according to a document obtained by The Daily. Seven Senate seats were unfilled as of Tuesday due to ongoing transitions.

Masterson attributed the lack of women rising to the top to the nature of the organization.

“It’s kind of sad to me that once you cross the executive threshold, there’s not as many women,” Masterson said. “ASG is a tough organization to be a part of. People hate on you and criticize you no matter what you’re doing. I think women might be turned off by that more because they’re more oriented toward positive relationships.”

Masterson also noted women were even less willing to run for some ASG positions than others that have traditionally been filled by men. She said women in these roles face a double standard. She said in the past she has been called “intimidating” and “scary” for doing her job. Her male successor is more intense, she said, but other ASG members are less offended by that quality in him. Additionally, there is a perception within the organization that some positions are better suited for women than others, she said, such as public relations vice president.

Weinberg junior Carly Blumenfeld has also served as an ASG executive board member throughout the year. She said she has not been affected by the double standard as much as other female leaders. Blumenfeld works in the newly-created chief-of-staff position, which is responsible for maintaining personal relations within ASG. She said her role was one of the more “feminine” ones on the board.

Blumenfeld said she has never received specifically gendered complaints from senators, but from her observations she said women are at times excluded.

“There’s kind of this all-males club feeling sometimes,” Blumenfeld said. “There are cliques in Senate composed of all men … I have felt my ideas didn’t have as much support because I wasn’t a part of that voting block.”

Women missing in student body-elected positions

Both Blumenfeld and Masterson said a lack of confidence often prevents women from running for top ASG positions. Weinberg junior Carla Berkowitz was the only female candidate for an ASG student-body-elected position in 2012. She lost, and all those positions were filled by men at the start of this academic year.

Lee, the only female candidate for president or vice president in this year’s election, said she considered breaking down gender barriers in ASG as a way to improve the organization as a whole and said assumptions about “institutions built for men, by men” need to be challenged.

“I think when I start to see not only women’s issues that way, but my interaction and relationship with organizations that way, it then becomes an issue of not what we’re going to get done, but how we’re going to get it done,” Lee said. “Can we do it better?”

Both Blumenfeld and Masterson commended Lee for having confidence to run. Masterson said she thought other women had been prevented from running due to fears about public perception.

“You really have to put yourself out there,” she said.

Lew said she had fears about such perceptions when she was running, but she didn’t know if those worries are greater for women than they are for men. She said her own qualms were trumped by her desire to improve Northwestern.

Steps toward change

Three women already will likely fill positions formerly filled by men on the executive board next academic year. Weinberg junior Sofia Sami is running unopposed for academic vice president. McCormick junior Abby Klearman will be parliamentarian, and Weinberg junior Katie Funderburg will be the first female ASG speaker in more than 20 years.

Funderburg was a Panhellenic Association senator prior to moving up to speaker. She said working in the Greek Caucus with other women was helpful and gave her confidence.

“That is why I moved on to take other roles in the organization,” Funderburg said. “I think it’s a positive change.”

Her predecessor, Weinberg junior Ani Ajith — a former Daily staffer and current presidential candidate — said she was the most qualified of the candidates. Still, he said he was additionally inclined to support her because he believes the executive board needs diversity.

“I think when you are looking at the people who are representing not only ASG but the campus on the executive board, we have to make sure that a very diverse set of viewpoints are represented,” Ajith said.

Masterson also noted that the creation of the chief-of-staff position in the past year to deal with personal relations issues would likely improve the issue. She said ASG needs to change, especially in its double standards.

“I have a legacy of doing a good job, but being a bitch,” she said. “I’ve never been a bitch.”

Joseph Diebold contributed reporting.