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Politics in the Social Mix: Women Discussing Politics

Some Women Welcome Political Discourse - Others Avoid It Like the Plague

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I love talking politics. So I was surprised by a conversation I overheard while browsing at a yarn shop during a 'stitch and bitch' gathering.

"It's Nobody's Business"

The store manager shared the story of her daughter's play date with a friend whose mother was late picking the child up, and then tried to smooth over the gaffe by bringing up the 2008 elections.

"I felt like telling her, 'Our daughters are friends - we don't need to be'" the manager confided to the group. "Even if I wanted to be friendly, the last thing I'd do is talk politics. I don't discuss politics at home or here at work. Politics is like religion - it's private. It's nobody's business."

Religion or Politics

How many of us grew up hearing "Never discuss religion or politics" - that gender-specific caveat intended to warn women against expressing our beliefs in order to maintain harmony in our relationships?

Personally, I operate at the other end of the spectrum.

While working on a fundraising event with two other women, I began a political discussion. One, a good friend, is a die-hard Democrat married to a politically-connected Republican. She's always happy to jump headfirst into a political tussle; this is the norm in her home.

The other, a casual acquaintance, quickly confessed, "I know nothing about politics. You should be having this discussion with my husband."

You've Got to Have Friends

In a situation like this, my impulse is to end the discussion to avoid making anyone feel uncomfortable. But this impulse may actually do more harm than good, because women often rely on their friends for information, thus gaining political knowledge from informal sources.

Susan Carroll, Senior Scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, argues that for women to be able to express their differences from men, they require autonomy, including economic independence and psychological independence (i.e. freedom from traditional roles assigned to women based solely on gender).

Autonomy and Political Independence

Although women who achieve the former are more likely to work outside the home, those who forgo employment to raise children may experience the pressure of traditional roles even when the choice was theirs to make.

A sense of autonomy can often come from secure relationships and connections to other women who model what we would like to become. They provide a benchmark by which we measure ourselves, and serve as a source of information and social feedback.

And there's growing evidence that they impact our political decision-making as well.

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