From Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to President Trump and Kid Rock, we've seen male celebrities run for political office for decades. They are fearless, confident, transparent about their political aspirations, and more often than you might expect, they win. But as we gear up for the 2018 and the 2020 elections, it's worth asking: Where are the female celebrities?
On Tuesday, Nixon said she was aware of the reports, saying on the Today show, "I think there are a lot of people who would love me to run." However, she wouldn't confirm whether she really is interested in running for office or not. Other women, like Oprah Winfrey and Caitlyn Jenner, suggested earlier this year they could throw their hats in the ring for president and the Senate, respectively. But while Jenner doubled down on her comments last month, Winfrey changed gears during a podcast with The Hollywood Reporter and said, "I will never run for public office."
In contrast, male celebrities aren't holding back. Kid Rock announced his bid for the U.S. Senate seat currently occupied by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow. And even though Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson hasn't launched his 2020 presidential bid (yet), he has certainly capitalized on the possibility by joking about it on Saturday Night Live and saying it's "a real possibility" in an interview with GQ.
In a country where a real-estate-mogul-turned-reality-show-host can become president, the Terminator can become the governor of California, and a cast member of The Real World can end up in the U.S. House of Representatives, there's a curious void of female celebrities in the political landscape. While male celebs represent a small fraction of all people running for public office at any given moment, female celebrities are largely absent. So we set to find out: Why aren't they running?
Refinery29 reached out to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics, to ask whether the reasons everyday women chose not to run for office apply to female celebrities.
"If I think about the challenges women face when they think about running for office, or who gets recruited: Research shows that [with] men and women with the same kind of resumes, the men are more likely to run than women," she said. "That might be true for celebrities!"
Female celebrities, after all, belong to a group that's underrepresented in government: Women currently hold 20% of the seats in Congress, only six states have female governors, and women make up about 24% of all state legislators in the country. What this all means is that gender parity in politics won't be a reality until 2117 if we continue electing women at this rate. (Yes, you read that right: A full century.)
"On one hand, you have these [gender disparity] issues, even among celebrities. [Women] might want to get some policy accomplished but they might not look to government to do it," Walsh said. "But you also probably have this idea of being qualified."
Research has shown there are many reasons for this disparity, among them the fact that women are more likely to run if they're recruited, instead of coming up with the possibility themselves like men often do; women tend to believe that if they're interested in a policy aspect, they can get more done outside of government; and there's a presumption that men are automatically qualified, even if they don't have a political background, while women have to prove they have the qualifications to hold office.
"It's maybe even more complicated for women celebrities, to be able to kind of prove that they're not 'just' an actress, 'just' a comedian ... that you also bring qualifications, smarts, policies, opinions, and beliefs."
Nixon may be well perceived as qualified by certain groups, even though she's never held political office. She's an education activist and has been outspoken about the issues with Gov. Cuomo's education policies. Nixon has also been a staunch supporter of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio since he first ran for office. Her wife Christine Marinoni joined the administration in 2014, and after de Blasio's re-election, Nixon was named to the advisory board for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
“She’s an out-of-the-box candidate with progressive credentials who would excite people,” Billy Easton, director of the public-education advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education, told The Wall Street Journal.
Whether she'll end up running in 2018 remains to be seen. This is also true for Caitlyn Jenner, who has already caught the eye of organizations such as the LGBTQ advocacy group Log Cabin Republicans. As a high-profile transgender woman who has never held public office before and would run as a Republican in a deep-blue state such as California, Jenner is an interesting case. If she's able to secure a Senate seat, it would be a huge win for LGBTQ and female Republicans.
"Any time we have transgender voices in the conversation about LGBT nondiscrimination is a win for the community. And it's even more so when you have Republican transgender voices advocating on behalf of the community, especially when you have a Republican transgender voice that has the celebrity that Caitlyn Jenner does," Gregory T. Angelo, national president of Log Cabin Republicans, told Refinery29.
We need more women in office — women of color, queer women, transgender women, mothers, women with no kids, single women, married women, widows, women of all religions, women of all political backgrounds — and female celebrities can help the ratio.
Adding women like Nixon and Jenner to the roster of governors and senators would be a win for female representation. As more women consider running for office (Emily's List reports a record 16,000 potential candidates for upcoming elections) maybe we'll see more female celebrities give it a shot, too.
After all, their male peers aren't hesitating to run for public office.