Widening SAC gender divide raises question

sac opinions piece

(Tiffany Yue)

Listening to the speeches of the sophomores running for Student Affairs Council (SAC), I noticed that the candidates seemed pretty evenly split between girls and boys. In fact, seven of the 13 students running were girls. Yet later that week when Dean Popp announced the sophomore representatives for the spring semester, I wasn’t surprised that no girls had been elected.

Over the past two years, my grade has had the opportunity to elect 12 representatives. Only one of those representatives, Amy Dong, has been a girl. If you look at SAC as a whole, you’ll notice that this isn’t just my grade. Of the 18 students currently on SAC, only four are girls (22 percent). As a point of reference, the Upper School student body is 52 percent female. Although more than half of our students are girls, less than a quarter of the governing body is female.

This isn’t just a SJS problem; it’s a national issue. This past year, the number of women reached a record in the Senate, holding 20 of the 100 spots. The very fact that reaching 20 percent is a celebrated achievement showcases what is wrong with the representation of women in the United States. We’re more than half of the population, yet we have to fight for minimal representation. Having women in government matters — so that girls will grow up feeling like they have opportunities, so that women’s health and social rights will be protected, so that one day women will achieve full economic parity to men.

It’s all too easy to brush these numbers aside and say that they don’t matter, that’s just the way it is. But these excuses are just that — excuses. It’s important that female students look at the SAC representatives and actually feel represented, and it’s discouraging not to see other girls on SAC. It makes me feel like it’s hopeless to even run, a sentiment shared by others female students. The evidence is in the numbers: 75 percent of freshman candidates were girls, which dropped to 54 percent among sophomore candidates. By junior year, girls have come to realization that the odds are against them, and fewer bother to run. Only five of the 17 junior candidates were female, 29 percent. And of the current seniors from their prefect election last spring, only five of 22 candidates were girls, under one quarter.

It’s tempting to believe that our school is gender blind or, worse, that if girls aren’t winning, they just aren’t qualified. It’s impossible not to notice gender, though. We all have preconceived notions about how girls and boys are supposed to behave. We’re a generation raised on Disney movies and Grand Theft Auto: gender is not, and has never been, irrelevant.

Maybe the first step to changing this phenomenon is to encourage more girls to run for SAC; maybe it’s to ask voters to carefully evaluate each candidate and set aside their own biases and stereotypes. What I do know is that equal representation of boys and girls is important and something we should strive for as a community. According to the school’s mission statement, SJS “is dedicated to the enhancement and expansion of future leadership for Houston and the country.” Part of enhancing and expanding leadership within our own community involves offering equal opportunities for boys and girls to serve on student government.

I’m not saying that students should vote for girls just because they’re girls. What I’m asking for is a student government body that fairly represents the makeup of the student body and gives girls the opportunities they deserve.

Cara Maines
Assistant Online Editor

6 Responses to Widening SAC gender divide raises question

  1. Anon says:

    “What I’m asking for is a student government body that fairly represents the makeup of the student body and gives girls the opportunities they deserve.”
    I think an important distinction to be made is the idea of opportunities versus results. The opportunity to run for SAC was open to the entire student body, male and female.

    “I noticed that the candidates seemed pretty evenly split between girls and boys.”
    The voters had equal opportunities to elect a female candidate as they did to elect a male. The lack of female representatives cannot be blamed on anyone. People vote for who they think best represents them, so is it the voters fault that they do not feel that the females who ran would be best to represent them?

    In my experience, the SAC representatives have been people who generally get along with everyone. I don’t feel that there is a stigma against electing females, in fact I have voted for several females who I thought would be good candidates. For the most part I have felt that the female candidates didn’t achieve the same amiability as the male candidates. Maybe this was particular to the people who ran, or maybe it might have something to do with female social groups, that I cannot explain.

    The bottom line is that females were certainly given equal opportunities. The results merely showed who the students felt would best represent the community, regardless of gender.

  2. Anon says:

    “What I’m asking for is a student government body that fairly represents the makeup of the student body and gives girls the opportunities they deserve.”

    This is, of course, assuming that a more evenly distributed (across gender lines at least) Student Affairs Council would provide opportunities to girls that they currently do not have and boys do. I’m not entirely sure what increased female representation would accomplish as I don’t really notice the actions of SAC on a daily basis at all. Could you please provide some examples of opportunities girls are missing out on due to this disparity?

    “so that one day women will achieve full economic parity to men.”

    The suggestion that it is the government’s job to assure economic equality is frightening at best.

    “Part of enhancing and expanding leadership within our own community involves offering equal opportunities for boys and girls to serve on student government.”

    There are equal opportunities. Maybe not equal outcomes, but equal opportunities nonetheless.

    Anyway the part that I find most relevant is not to consider it as “girls make up x percent of the high school but only y percent of SAC” but as “girls make up x percent of the high school AND only y percent of SAC,” leaving the question to be this:

    Why do girls vote in such a manner that creates/allows for this under representation? And, is this issue important enough to them to merit a change in voting habits?

    • Anon says:

      “Anyway the part that I find most relevant is not to consider it as “girls make up x percent of the high school but only y percent of SAC” but as “girls make up x percent of the high school AND only y percent of SAC,” leaving the question to be this…”

      How does changing the conjunction make the question tangibly different? Furthermore, the article addresses the question regarding why girls “vote in a matter that creates/allows for this underrepresentation (sic),” so bringing up this point again is irrelevant.

      While the actions of SAC are not necessarily seen on a day to day basis, they do carry out Honor Trials and organize school events, and while one might argue that it is not the school’s prerogative to make the ratio of males to females on SAC equal, the article did a good job of bringing this issue to light.

  3. Middle School Gordo says:

    Amy Dong is amazing, and she would win elections anywhere in life – and if I could vote for her, I would.

    I realize that this is an opinion, but I wanted to know if there had been any questioning of students who ran previously but then decided not to in future years, and what their motivations for dropping out were? I would love to know if this is a historical trend over the past 10 years, or if it is a statistical blip. You might look at middle school numbers and see if there is a corresponding trend in gender distribution.

    You bring up a good point that what people are raised to see as normal, in this case, their 4 years in upper school, becomes what they tend to believe to be true.

    Thank you for writing this and opening the discussion.

  4. SJS says:

    You may not be aware, but a female has been elected head prefect for the last three years. Samantha Heinle, Guan Chen, and Sira Ntagha. Females may be running in less quantities but their gender is not whats preventing them from being elected.

  5. Kem Kemp says:

    My colleagues and I have been counting on stage each year, so I’m glad you drew this topic into question, Cara. Another facet is to look at the ethnic breakdown of both boys and girls, but especially girls. If I am correct, there have not been too many “white” girls who step forward to run. It would also be interesting to do some kind of infographic on varied facets of SAC representatives: gender, ethnicity, zip codes. An inquiry into why people vote on who they do would also be interesting or what about the SAC speeches sways a vote. Great job, Cara, and the Review.

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