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Why are there so few twins in political history?

Why are there so few twins in political history?

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In Joan Oates' book Babylon, particularly the part about Sargon and his successors,¹ it is said that Sargon's son Rimush was killed in a palace conspiracy, possibly with the participation of his brother Manishtushu. The author says that this name, meaning 'who is with him?', perhaps indicated that they were twins. This made me think about twins in general and how they seem pretty rare among prominent historical figures.

Some sources say that the likelihood of having twins is 3%, while others seem to indicate that the number might be 1% in non-developed countries. As there seems to be a lot of fluctuation, I will use 1% as the real chance. With this number, we should expect to find at least some twins in history, as there are more than 100 known historical figures. But this doesn't seem to be the case.

A quick Google and Wikipedia search didn't give me any results; I can't seem to find historical political figures with twins, even non-famous twins - unless I include mythological twins in my search; in this case, there are the pairs Romulus and Remus, and Apollo and Artemis. As I am interested in people that really existed, though, these pairs don't answer my question. Also, as I don't want this question closed, I will divide it into two sub-questions - the first, a straightforward one; the second, a question that might generate some debate, which is not the objective here (if this is considered a violation of this website's rules, feel free to edit out the second question):

1) Can someone remember any historical figure with a twin, besides Rimush and Manishtushu (on which there still seems to be an ongoing debate)?

2) Why is this the case, why are twins so rare among historical political figures?

¹ Revised edition, p. 35.

As @BigDataLouis mentions in an answer he has deleted, Elvis Presley had an identical twin brother, delivered stillborn. You can find many more in the List of twins and Twins in mythology.

Presley case sheds some light on why this is rare: twins (and, in general, multiple fetuses) compete for mother's resources in the womb and, on average, have lower birth weight. After birth they face more competition for parental support. Thus, ceteris paribus, they are less likely to grow up strong or develop their talents as much as single births.

Those who are "born into fame" (e.g., royalty) face a different issue: an identical twin of a first born prince would be a threat to the peaceful succession (cf. the legend that The Man in the Iron Mask was Louis XIV's identical twin) and could even be murdered at birth.

Short Answer

Perhaps the best known ancient or medieval twin is the Roman emperor Commodus, and there were also some notable parents of twins: the Roman dictator Sulla, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (father of Commodus), and William Shakespeare, among others.

As to why there are so few, complications at birth in times of limited medical technology is the most clearly attested reason. Also, twins are often born smaller and weaker, lessening their chance of survival in times when infant mortality was already high, and there was most likely infanticide in some cultures / times periods.


There are a few omissions from the Wikipedia list.

Sulla & Caecilia Metella

The Roman dictator Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138 BC to 78 BC) and his fourth wife Caecilia Metella (died circa. 80 BC) had twins who both survived into adulthood; the senator Faustus Cornelius Sulla and his sister Fausta Cornelia, wife of the poet Gaius Memmius and later of Titus Annius Milo, political agitator and friend of Cicero.

Marcus Aurelius & Faustina the Younger

The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and his wife Faustina the Younger had two sets of twins. Most famous among them was Commodus (born 31st August 161, died 31st December 192 AD). His elder twin brother, Titus Aurelius Fulvus Antoninus, died at the age of four. This double arrival was evidently viewed positively for

The astrologers cast favourable horoscopes for both of them. The event was appropriately celebrated on the imperial coinage.

Source: Anthony Birley, Marcus Aurelius: A Biography

Silver denarius of Faustina II (wife of Marcus Aurelius). This coin commemorates the birth of twin boys

Despite the astrologers and their horoscopes, the elder twin died in 165 AD. Some 12 years earlier, Marcus Aurelius and Faustina the Younger had had another set of twins (Titus Aelius Antoninus and Titus Aelius Aurelius) in 149 AD, but neither survived long. The twins were

commemorated on the coinage of the year, with, on the reverse, crossed cornucopiae surmounted by busts of two small boys, and the legend temporum felicitas, 'the happiness of the times'. But first one of the infants died, then the second, both before the end of 149.

Source: Birley

Robert de Beaumont & Isabel de Vermandois

Their twin sons, Waleran, Earl of Worcester (1104-66) and Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester (1104-68) were wards of Henry I (they were present at his deathbed) and later became powerful barons. Waleran was a leading supporter and son-in-law of King Stephen. Robert was less enthusiastic in his support of Stephen and, unlike his brother, prospered under Stephen's successor Henry II, holding the offices of Chief Justiciar of England and Lord High Steward until his death.

Alfonso XI of Castile & Eleanor de Guzmán

HENRY II of Castile (born 13th January 1334, died 29th May 1379) had a younger twin brother, Fadrique Alfonso, Lord of Haro (died 29 May 1358). They were the illegitimate sons of Alfonso XI of Castile with his mistress Eleanor de Guzmán. When their father died, he was succeeded by the twins' half brother Peter of Castile (known both as 'the cruel' and 'the just'). After the twins' mother was executed, they rebelled and were reconciled with Peter several times. Then, in 1358, Fadrique was apparently lured to his death by Peter. Henry continued to rebel (it gets complicated) until, in 1369, he personally killed his half-brother Peter after having defeated him at the Battle of Montiel.

William Shakespeare & Anne Hathaway

Their twins were Hamnet Shakespeare (1585-96) and Judith Quiney (1585-1662). Wikipedia notes that,

Some Shakespearean scholars speculate on the relationship between Hamnet and his father's later play Hamlet…

Lastly, although not politically important, the case of the 10th century cojoined twins in Byzantium is worth mentioning, not least for the attitudes of chroniclers at the time (and for the first known attempted surgical operation to separate cojopined twins). The Byzantine historian Leo the Deacon provided this "firsthand observation of seeing the conjoined twins, sometime during the mid-940s":

At this time male twins, who came from the region of Cappadocia, were wandering through many parts of the Roman Empire; I myself, who am writing these lines, have often seen them in Asia, a monstrous and novel wonder. For the various parts of their bodies were whole and complete, but their sides were attached from the armpit to the hip, uniting their bodies and combining them into one… They were thirty years old and well developed physically, appearing youthful and vigorous… and they had indescribably sweet and good dispositions.

Illustration from 'The Synopsis of Histories' by John Scylitzes. Image source.

The 11th century historical writings Theophanes Continuatus has this:

… they resided for a long time in the City [Constantinople] and were admired by everybody as a curiosity but later were exiled because it was believed that they were a bad omen.

The attempt at separation was made when one of the twins died but, unfortunately, the second twin died three days after the operation.


It is difficult to establish just how rare such births were as we simply don't have any statistics but it is fair to say that, prior to the advent of modern medicine, few such births were successful. The earliest evidence we have of twins dates back to the middle Holocene period, concerning the remains of a woman with twins in her womb believed to be 7,630 and 7,725 years old. Examination of the evidence suggests that all three died because of complications which would have proved challenging even to modern doctors:

The location of the fetal remains suggests the first baby was breech - coming out feet first - a dangerous condition complicated by the presence of the twin.

While the first baby was partially delivered, at some point labour was obstructed, either by interlocked twins, head entrapment or some other condition such as the infant's arms beside or behind its head…

… "Without the skills, experience and technology of modern medical practitioners, this case of dystocia [obstructed labour] would have been a virtual death sentence for all three individuals," the researchers say.

"… the oldest example of death by dystocia, or obstructed labor, and the earliest known example of twins on the archaeological record". Text & image source: 'Ancient Grave In Siberia Yields Earliest Example Of Twins'

Pliny the Elder noted that

when twins are born, it is rare for the mother or more than one baby to live.

According to Pliny, the mortality rate was especially high if one twin was male and the other female, with only a one-in-ten chance of both surviving.

While the Romans may have seen twins as a cause for celebration, medieval Europeans seem to have had mixed views with some regarding twins as being the result of adultery or as being unnatural, but at the same time they were also "revered… as people with special powers". One (anonymous) 14th century Hebrew writer classifies these births as 'difficult', as when

the foetus is dead, or when his head is very big, or when he has two heads, or when there are / twins, or when the birth is unnatural, or when it occurs before time, or when the woman is very old, or as a result of the uterus' diseases

The Trotula Manuscript, "the earliest obstetric work in Middle English" (15th century translation), in giving instructions to midwives on delivering twins, alludes to the high mortality rate when it says "the children brought to grief, as often happens."

Even today,

Twins are more likely to be born prematurely, weigh less and be at more risk of childhood death than singleton babies, all of which can cause health problems later in life.

Given the already high infant mortality rates of even single births persisted into the 20th century, it is hardly surprising that few twins survived. Further, in ancient Japan, A. Piontelli notes that (with reference to infanticide)

twins were not welcome in ancient Japan. Their mothers were regarded as animal-like, as twins were associated with animal litters, and the twins spoiled their mothers' bodies and imposed financial hardship on the family.

If the incidence of twins in ancient Japan was roughly the same as just before the advent of fertility treatment (approx. 5.5 to 7 per 1000 births, compared about 10 per 1000 births in France, Germany and the UK), it is no surprise that few survived.

As a complement to other answers, Louis le Pieux, king of Franks and Western Emperor, who ruled half of Europe from 814 to his death in 840 (but for 18 months in 833-835), was born in 778 with a twin, Lothaire, who died in his second year.

Their parents were Charlemagne and Hildegard of Vintzgau.

The complicated reality behind the story of the Somali community’s success in Minnesota

For all the talk of success, the story of Somali-Americans’ economic status and political clout in Minnesota is complicated.

When Abdirahman Kahin came to the U.S. two decades ago, one of the first things he noticed about Minnesotans was their love for restaurants, especially those offering ethnic cuisine.

He also noticed that though there were a lot of ethnic eateries in the Twin Cities, many tended to fall into one of several groups: Italian, Thai, Indian, Mexican or Middle Eastern. There were few, if any, places to get decent Somali food.

So Kahin decided to try his luck in the restaurant business, and in 2010, he opened Afro Deli and Catering, serving East African and American themed dishes out of a location in Minneapolis.

With a few years, Kahin made Afro Deli into one of the most successful immigrant-owned businesses in the state. Today, it features two Twin Cities locations (a third is planned) and a thriving catering business that counts the likes of General Mills and Target among its corporate clients.

Kahin’s is a classic American success story, of course. But he also personifies what’s become a conspicuous data point in an increasingly common narrative about Minnesota’s Somali community. Over the last several years, researchers and government officials from Europe and different parts of the U.S. have regularly visited the Twin Cities to learn about the East African Muslim community’s political and economic success.

“Minneapolis is viewed around the world, particularly in Scandinavian countries where the Somali diaspora is growing, as a model for Somali integration,” writes Stefanie Chambers, a political science professor at Trinity College, in her recently published book comparing the Somali-American communities in Minneapolis and Columbus, Ohio. “Other American mayors, such as the mayor of Portland, Oregon, have visited Minneapolis to learn about policies that can help their cities better address the needs of Somali immigrants.”

For all the talk of success and integration, however, the more common reality for Somali-Americans in Minnesota is more complicated, if less comforting. “From outside, the community seems to be doing really great,” said Ahmed Yusuf, a Minneapolis Public Schools teacher who’s written about Somalis in Minnesota. “But when you look deep down, we’re struggling big time, except for a few individuals who have risen above as the cream of the crop.”

The story of a success story

The history of the Somali-Americans in Minnesota echoes that of many immigrant communities in the United States. When the first waves of Somalis arrived in Minnesota, in the early 1990s, many entered the workforce via unskilled jobs at meatpacking plants, where the work didn’t require prior work experience, advanced degrees or fluency in English.

But as the community grew, and as more Somali immigrants improved their English skills and earned career credentials, they branched out into more industries and professions — including work helping local and state government agencies bridge the cultural gap between service providers and the growing number of Somali clients in Minnesota.

They also started small businesses. Today, though Somali-Americans are in almost every sector of Minnesota’s workforce — and are particularly well-represented in the health, education and financial-services industries — perhaps their most conspicuous presence in Minnesota, especially in Minneapolis, to due to small businesses: the myriad restaurants, coffee shops and clothing stores that tend to be concentrated in certain neighborhoods where Somalis work, live and socialize.

At the same time, Somali-Americans have also found their way in local politics. In 2013, Minneapolis elected its first Somali-American City Council member, Abdi Warsame. The next year, Siad Ali was elected the Minneapolis school board and last year, Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American to be elected to a state Legislature.

Those two factors — the community’s entrepreneurship and growing political clout — has formed a major part of the narrative about Somali success, especially among those who compare Somalis in Minnesota to those in other parts of the world.

When officials from Sweden started visiting Minnesota, for example, they made a point of connecting with entrepreneurs to understand how they managed to establish their shops. One of the entrepreneurs they met was Kahin, the Afro Deli owner, who told the group that many in the community go into business trying to serve the Somali population in a place where it’s relatively easy to start a business, which isn’t the case in Sweden.

“This is a problem that we need to address in our government in order for the Somalis to have the freedom to establish businesses, like here,” Kurt Eliasson, an official from the Swedish Association of Public Housing, told me in 2012. “If this becomes possible, then they don’t have to be dependent on government assistance.”

Downplaying more widespread problems

Yusuf, the MPS teacher, said it’s understandable why many — including many Somali Americans in Minnesota — want to focus on the community’s economic contributions and political muscle. But he, like many others, takes issue with the fact that people are looking at the community’s “unique” experiences that highlight achievement while downplaying more widespread problems.

“Yes, there are some successful entrepreneurs,” Yusuf said. “Yes, there are some Somali elected officials. But there are also many living in poverty there are people who are still dealing with language barriers.”

In fact, according to a 2016 report by the Minnesota State Demographic Center, most Somali-Americans remain at the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder. Nearly 57 percent of Somalis live in poverty, according to the report, while 26 percent live in near-poverty. Other measures also show how many Somali-Americans are struggling, even compared to other minority groups in the state. Somalis currently have the lowest median household income among immigrant and minority groups in Minnesota, as well as the lowest rates of educational attainment and home ownership.

What’s more, even some of the signs of success can be misleading. Many of the community’s small business owners, especially those in Minneapolis malls, are struggling to keep their doors open, said Kahin. Most are owned and operated by elderly women who, because of their limited English proficiency, aren’t able to participate in the traditional labor market. “Almost all of the stores in these malls sell identical clothes,” Kahin said. “Many owners barely secure the monthly rent income of their shops, let alone making profits.”

Better days ahead

Ryan Allen, an immigration expert at the University of Minnesota, says the socioeconomic challenges that Somali-Americans face aren’t unique. In fact, they tend to mirror the experience of several groups, most notable Italian-Americans. “They were highly discriminated against because of their religion, and many people considered them to be a different race,” said Allen. “So they had to become entrepreneurs to survive economically.”

With time, the economic status of Italian immigrants improved as they gradually became more proficient in English and integrated into society — a pattern that he now sees in the Somali-American community.

Allen predicts that the second-generation of Somali immigrants, who, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, now make up nearly 40 percent of the community, can expect to do much better than their parents, both economically and socially. “The second generation of refugees have outcomes that look a whole like native-born children,” he says. “They go to college at the same rate and their economic outcomes look a lot like native-born children.”

It’s a sentiment Yusuf agrees with. He says that many second-generation Somalis in the Twin Cities metro area are serving as engineers, lawyers, doctors, accountants, educators, law-enforcement officers, artists and designers. “They have assimilated into the mainstream America,” he says.

All that said, the backgrounds and experiences of Somali-Americans who immigrate to the U.S. can vary widely. And different people in the community have adjusted to life in Minnesota at different paces. Some, for example, have managed to quickly climb the rungs of the socioeconomic ladder others are struggling to make ends meet.

Whatever the case, says Hamse Warfa, an author and entrepreneur, it’s important not to treat the community’s economic status as an intractable issue, but as a Minnesota problem that must be confronted.

“The Somali-American community is part of the future workforce of the state,” he says. “The implications of these high poverty rates will potentially create a barrier to the economic mobility of the state.”

Why are there so few twins in political history? - History

Women and minorities have made major gains in the ranks of elected U.S. public office-holders—but at all levels of government the progress has been incomplete and uneven. Consider, for example, America’s fifty state legislatures. Forty years ago, one would have been hard-pressed to find anyone other than a white man serving in any of these legislatures, yet women and various minorities now claim about one-third of the seats. But there are big variations across the states.

By now, women are about 24% of all state legislators, yet their contingents range from ten percent in South Carolina to forty percent in Colorado. African American legislators average 8.1% overall, but the largest contingents (ranging from 20% to 23%) appear in Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama. Latinos are only 2.9% of all state legislators, and they are concentrated in New Mexico, Texas, California, New York, Nevada, and Arizona.

Apart from population ratios, why do state legislatures vary in diversity—and what difference does it make? Political scientists have made progress in answering these important questions.

Opportunities for Women

  • Women make less office-holding progress in states with traditional cultures and strong, male-dominated party organizations.
  • Female legislators have a stronger presence in states with more liberal electorates and more women in non-traditional social positions. Women are more likely to run for office in such settings and party leaders, voters, and interest groups are more willing to support them.
  • Women have a greater presence in “citizen” legislatures that meet infrequently and pay low stipends to their part-time, nonprofessional officeholders. States with multi-member legislative districts also tend to elect more women. Perhaps women find entry easier when the offices are less powerful and there are multiple winners.

Overcoming Racial and Ethnic Exclusion

Congressional demographics | “Who are the members of Congress?” graphic by kiss me i’m polish from the textbook “We the people: An introduction to American politics” by Ginsberg, Lowi, Weir, and Tolbert.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965—and the subsequent use of its provisions to monitor the removal of electoral barriers—has propelled state legislatures toward more closely reflecting the racial and ethnic diversity of state populations. With their rights legally protected, minority electorates can and almost always do elect minority representatives—especially when legislative districts are deliberately designed to encompass majorities of minority voters.

The current situation could be an artificial ceiling for minority legislators, however. To this day, majority-white districts almost always elect white candidates. In the mid-1990s, the Supreme Court began to place limits on the deliberate use of race and ethnicity in drawing district boundaries. Until tools are found to mitigate racial fears and racially polarized voting, dispersing minority voters could cause them to have less leverage in electing minority legislators.

Why Female and Minority Legislators Matter

Proponents of getting more women and minorities into public office presume that they “make a difference.” Scholarly studies have tested various hypotheses and pinpointed key ways in which the presence of female and minority officeholders really does matter.

Most basically, when female and minority citizens see women or co-ethnics in office, they become more politically engaged and empowered. A significant female presence in the legislature increases the chance that women will tell survey researchers they feel they have political influence. Similarly, fellow minorities in office boost African American and Latino voter turnout—and among Latinos at least, alleviate feelings of political alienation. In all these ways, legislative diversity serves to enhance democratic representation and encourage more inclusive civic engagement.

Mazie Hirono, the first female Senator from Hawaii, the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate, the first U.S. Senator born in Japan, and the nation’s first Buddhist Senator.

Inside legislatures, female and minority representatives sponsor distinctive kinds of bills:

  • Women are more likely than men to introduce legislation about women’s rights and reproductive health choices, and also bills dealing with children, health care, and welfare.
  • African American state legislators are more likely (even compared to other Democrats or other representatives with similar constituencies) to introduce measures to combat racial discrimination and boost the socioeconomic and political status of African Africans, as well as measures generally aimed at improving education, health care, and social welfare.
  • Latino legislators are most active on issues related to immigration, language learning, and opportunities for migrant laborers.

What about the final votes? The effect of diversity is more ambiguous when it comes to legislative outcomes. One comprehensive study finds that higher percentages of women in state legislatures are associated with the adoption of only eight out of 34 “women-friendly” types of policies. Child support and abortion rights get a boost, according to other studies, but not action to further women’s health or protect women from domestic violence.

Yet numerous studies demonstrate that racial and ethnic diversity in state legislatures can result in very significant policy changes on behalf of minority interests. In particular, when powerful leadership positions go to minority legislators—especially to women of color—the prospects improve for legislation to expand access to social-welfare programs and increase benefit levels. Clearly, the growing clout of women and minority legislators can make a difference.

Beth Reingold studies Political Science and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. She is the author of Representing Women: Sex, Gender and Legislative Behavior in Arizona and California .

Comments 2

Samantha Cinnick &mdash November 16, 2012

Something that seems intriguing about this article is the discussion of opportunities for women to hold positions of political office and how difficult it can be to attain those positions. One difficulty mentioned was that women are less likely to make progress in political spheres in states that value ‘traditional cultures’ and ‘male-dominated party organizations.’ This gender inequality in politics might be due to reduced cultural and social capital prospects available to women in these areas. For example, if these states still hold traditional culture in high esteem, such as dichotomous gender roles and sexualities as well as 1950s idealized family formations, then many women may not pursue higher forms of education, a very important aspect of cultural capital associated with achieving upward social mobility and higher status in society. Compared to men who have had greater opportunities to engage in activities, like college educations that lead to increased cultural capital, women are still following in the footsteps of men whose cultural capital may far exceed their own. In addition, fewer chances to increase cultural capital may in turn affect women’s social capital. Men who have accumulated cultural capital may have also accumulated friends and social networks that have similar statuses in society therefore leading to higher positions in branches of government. Compared to women whose social networks may include other women in traditional positions such as mother or wife, men are at an advantage when looking for advancement in their field, especially when their social networks may include other politicians.

Blaming politicians

In many ways, this is just like everyday politics.

We often blame politicians for bad events, even when those events are beyond their control, says Prof Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University.

"People will blindly reward or punish the government for good or bad times without really having any clear understanding of whether or how the government's policies have contributed to those outcomes," he says.

This is even true when things that seem very unrelated to government go wrong.

"One instance that we looked at in some detail was a series of shark attacks off the coast of New Jersey in 1916," Prof Bartels says.

"This was the basis, much later, for the movie Jaws. We found that there was a pretty significant downturn in support for President [Woodrow] Wilson in the areas that had been most heavily affected by the shark attacks."

The "us" and "them" role of conspiracy theories can be found in more mainstream political groups as well.

In the UK, the EU referendum has created a group of Remainers and a similarly sized group of Leavers.

"People feel they belong to their group but it also means that people feel a certain sense of antagonism towards people in the other group," Prof Sara Hobolt, of the London School of Economics, says.

Remainers and Leavers sometimes interpret the world differently. For example, confronted with identical economic facts, Remainers are more likely to say the economy is performing poorly and Leavers to say it is performing well.

Conspiracy theories are just another part of this.

"Leavers, who, in the run-up to the referendum, thought they were going to be on the losing side, were more likely to think that the referendum might be rigged," Prof Hobolt says.

"And then that really shifted after the referendum results came out, because at that point the Remainers were on the losing side."

Why are there so few twins in political history? - History

In January, 2017, UN WOMEN released a map of women in politics. The map showcased the participation of women as chief executives of countries and as members of parliament.

The visual indicated the following:

• There are only 11 women heads of states in 157 countries which elect their leaders, representing 7.2 percent of the total.
• If you consider all 193 UN member countries, there are still only 11 women heads of governments, amounting to only 5.7 percent.
• Out of 278 speakers of parliaments all over the world, only 53 or 19.1 percent are women.
• From a total of 595 deputy speakers of parliament, only 158 or 26.6 percent are women.

Statistics from the Pew Research Institute underline that “most of the world’s nations have never had a female leader.” Of those that did, 60 percent have had women heads of states or governments for four years or less. The United States, touted as the most powerful and influential country in the world, has never had a female President.

Towards the end of the year, only two women were added to the list of heads of governments. These are Jacinda Ardern, recently sworn-in as New Zealand Prime Minister and the third woman to have held such position and Katrin Jakobsdottir, Iceland’s new Prime Minister and head of the coalition government.

Given these data, the reality remains – women are still underrepresented in politics. Yes, even in this day and age. According to Georgia’s Human Rights and Education Center (EMC), the “low ration of women in political bodies is a phenomenon for established and new democracies alike.”

“It’s not good enough to be heard. Women must be at the decision-making table,” Ardern said.

The argument remains that as women make up half of the population and with their innate natures and capabilities, they should be in seats of power.

In 1992, during the very first European Summit on Women in Decision-Making in Athens, it was declared that “women represent half the potential talents and skills of humanity and their under-representation in decision-making is a loss for society as a whole.”

Former Republic of Ireland President Mary Robinson said: “Women are actually more inclined towards that more modern leadership, which is a collaborative problem-solving, enabling, consultative, not just trying to assert a kind of hierarchical power.”

But why is it that there continue to be less women in politics? A study by Shauna Shames of Rutgers University-Camden identifies three barriers to women’s political participation:

Women in Politics Barrier #1: Institutional Structure or Policies

Institutional barriers refer to systemic, structural or policy-based barriers that hinder women’s political participation.

Foremost are electoral systems in different parts of the world which pose the most effective hindrance. In the United States, for example, there is a basic single-member-district (SMD) system used to elect members of the House of Representatives. This type of system, Shames argues, is beneficial to men. In the SMD system, an area can have several voting districts. Voters from each district cast a vote for their preferred district representative. The winner is chosen by the plurality of the votes rather than the majority vote. It is oftentimes hard for women to break into this system and get elected into office as the SMD system is prone to two types of weaknesses. Fairvote explains these weaknesses: the first is gerrymandering or the act of “manipulating [the] redrawing of legislative district lines” and the second one is the possibility of having a spoiler effect which leads political parties to limit the number of candidates and thus, the entry of women.

Another campaign reality is the fact that it is usually personality based, rather than policy-based. The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign focused not on issues and policies but on the characters and personalities of both Donald Trump (who later won the presidency) and Hillary Clinton. What’s more, reports showed that Hillary, being a woman, was a victim of more hate as compared to Trump and any other male politician. U.S. News gives a credible example:

“Donald Trump makes hay on mocking the disabled, Bernie Sanders gets points for claiming to be a bastion of transparency while never releasing his tax returns, but when Hillary weathers countless rounds of Benghazi investigations and comes out clean every time, the common response is: “Meh. I still don’t believe it.”

Another issue that prevents women from running for office is campaign funding. Women are normally at the lower end of the pay gap and do not have the networks or means to pour money into campaigning.

Also, elective office can oftentimes demand round-the-clock commitment, preventing women who are the traditional nurturers and carers in the home from committing to its demands.

Women in Politics Barrier #2: Social and Cultural Issues

In many countries, strong patriarchal systems remain in place making it difficult for women to break into the male-dominated world of politics. The Philippines, which has elected to office two female Presidents and touted by the World Economic Forum as the most gender equal country in Asia, has seen its share of political heckling of women in power. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative society, the very first time that women were allowed to participate in elections was on December, 2015, when they cast their votes in municipal elections.

There continues to be a strong emphasis across societies of women’s roles in the home, as mothers and wives. Also, politics remain a ‘male’ structure. In fact, EMC’s report emphasizes that “it is based on the idea of competition and confrontation,” a male domain, as opposed to what is seen as a more feminine style of collaboration and consensus.

Women in Politics Barrier #3: Psychological or Motivational Factors

Dirty politics and its extremely negative effects turn off most women from participating in it. British journalist Bim Adewunmi wrote, “who but the most thick-skinned would willingly go through a cycle that so closely scrutinizes female politicians’ fashion choices, sexual pasts and even their childcare arrangements?”

What’s more, women tend to get additional heat when running for office. Hillary, for example, received a lot of criticism for not being “human” enough or for being “too vocal” or “too insensitive.” In her book, What Happened, released in September, 2017, she wrote:

“It’s not customary to have women lead or even to engage in the rough-and-tumble of politics. It’s not normal — not yet. So when it happens, it often doesn’t feel quite right. That may sound vague, but it’s potent. People cast their votes based on feelings like that all the time.”

Shames noted other barriers to women’s political participation which include its intrusion into private life, belief that politics will not be a useful tool in effecting change and its continued exclusion of women.

If we want more women in politics, it’s important to address all of these obstacles which make up the so-called glass ceiling that women have been trying to smash since the beginning of time. Below, are some possible ways to increase women’s political participation:

1. Ensure that all women and girls go to school and receive the same kind of education as men do.
2. There must be continued advocacy on the rights of women and girls, including the rights to suffrage and political participation. These advocacy activities must not only be targeted to women and girls but also to men.
3. Make sure that all women have the right to vote and are encouraged to do so.
4. Laws and policies on gender equality and those that encourage women’s political participation must be put in place. These should include setting up quotas or seats for women representation ending the gender wage gap eliminating discrimination against women, violence against women, freedom from sexual harassment access to reproductive choice provision of affordable health care among others.
5. Women must be provided with leadership training and skills workshops.
6. Efforts must be made to encourage the establishment and growth of women’s movements
7. Pressure must be exerted on political parties to ensure gender consciousness and seats for women.
8. The media must also be provided with information sessions and training on how to cover women political candidates.

Of course, this list is non-exhaustive and may vary from one country to another. It is also very difficult to actually implement each of these steps. There are currently a lot of feminist movements who are actively engaged in making the world a better place for women and introducing the cracks in the glass ceiling.

How do you think we can further improve the participation of women in politics? What is your own personal contribution to this crusade? Let’s start a conversation that matters.

Public opinion flips between two extremes

But wait, you say: Isn&rsquot America moving in a much more liberal direction? And, if nothing else, won&rsquot that put pressure on the GOP to moderate? It&rsquos certainly easy to think America is moving in a much more liberal direction if you look at trends in public opinion over the past few years. Historically, though, public opinion is most liberal precisely when liberal policies are least likely to be enacted (like now, and especially in 2017 and 2018, when Republicans had unified control in Washington).

Once Democrats regain control, however, and then try to enact more liberal policies, public opinion will likely shift against them, in a more conservative direction &mdash or at least this is how it has worked historically. Americans favor government until they get it. (Remember in 2009 when it was fashionable to proclaim a permanent Democratic majority?) This is the great irony of American public opinion: It mitigates against moderation because it tells the out-party that they don&rsquot need to move to the middle &mdash that public opinion is moving in their direction. That is, right until they win and start governing based on it.

To be sure, Democrats&rsquo electoral fortunes have risen considerably since 2016, enough to take control of the U.S. House in 2018 and pick up seats across multiple state legislatures. The political &ldquomood&rdquo of the country (based on aggregated polling) has moved left, to levels not seen since the early 1960s. But it&rsquos a good bet that this shift, particularly on social issues, is partly anti-Trump backlash, which will dampen when Trump is no longer president.

The story behind picture rails and why so many San Francisco homes have them

A San Francisco apartment lease typically comes with a lot of conditions. You may be required to cover 75% of the hardwood floors in rugs or prohibited from burning candles or unable to host a pet that weighs more than 30 pounds. But perhaps the most common warning of all is about putting holes in the walls, a decision which could lead to a dip in the security deposit check when you eventually move out.

But for those in older buildings, there&rsquos usually an easy workaround you may not have even realized existed &mdash picture rails.

What you may initially mistake for crown molding is likely actually picture rail molding running horizontally around the room. It usually sits about a foot-and-a-half down from the edge where your walls meet your ceilings, and that molding is specifically there so that you can hang artwork or whatever else your heart desires from it. With the right hooks, you simply attach your item to strings that hang from the hook, which rests on the top of the rail.

Picture rails are also useful for heavy old mirrors. pic.twitter.com/nip3jXtUrW

&mdash Rachel Bennett (@mckosky) March 16, 2021

Americans began using picture rails around 1840 and the home decor essential stayed in fashion for about 100 years. They were born of practicality, said Bonnie Spindler, a real estate agent and "the Victorian Specialist" of San Francisco, like so many features of that era. Pre-1940 and the invention of drywall, most walls were constructed of plaster and lath, which can crack easily once someone takes a hammer and nail to the wall to position a painting. It was &mdash and still is &mdash difficult and costly to repair these cracks, which is why your landlord wants to make sure you don&rsquot do it.

&ldquoPlaster and lath, though quite a sturdy form of wall construction, is vulnerable to the loss of plaster &lsquokeys&rsquo (the bulbs of plaster that adhere it to the horizontal wood lathes, which are strung between wall studs) from impacts like a hammer driving in a nail,&rdquo said Rob Thomson, president of the Victorian Alliance of San Francisco. &ldquoPicture rails allow for mounting decor without risking damaging the walls. They are ornate, plain and everything in between.&rdquo

The middle class of that era still wanted to have well-appointed homes, so residents took advantage of picture rails to make their homes look wealthier. &ldquoIn the Victorian era, these middle-class people wanted to look upper class, so they would decorate and make things look as if they had a big mansion,&rdquo Spindler said. &ldquo. They hung portraits, tapestries, big mirrors, framed works of art and even plates and china. And they didn&rsquot want to screw up their walls.&rdquo

Typically, the 1.5-inch to 2-inch strips of molding are placed at the junction of where the wall stops and the cove of the ceiling starts. In homes constructed in the 1900s, it usually lines up with the top of a window. The rails themselves are sturdy and can be repositioned along the wall.

Constructing these items quickly became its own industry, with craftsmen specializing in different molding patterns, as well as hooks to hang from.

Today, residents in San Francisco looking to restore a home or stay true to its original design have only one place to go to find original picture rails. Lorna Kollmeyer, a designer, sculptor, and moldmaker, has owned an ornamental plaster shop in Hunter&rsquos Point for more than 37 years and has an extensive collection of picture rails ranging in style. If a picture rail in a home gets damaged or someone needs extra, they can take a piece of their current style to Kollmeyer and she&rsquoll try and match it, making a whole new mold if she can&rsquot.

Picture rail on display at Lorna Kollmeyer Ornamental Plaster in Hunter's Point.

&ldquoIt&rsquos a very interesting collection. We've tried to create an archive,&rdquo Kollmeyer said. &ldquoOver the years, I've come across a number of patterns, but people still keep turning up with new and pretty ones.&rdquo

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And that critique was right. Of course, the system is not democratic in so many ways. I don’t think a society with the wealth inequality we have qualifies as democratic, just as a baseline. But we also have to vote. We can’t take the progress that’s been made for granted because there’s a deeply undemocratic anti-democratic strain to American politics. That’s what we’re seeing with comments like the one from Mike Lee. There are elites who are more than happy to do away with democracy, to do away with regular people having any sort of power or say over their lives.

Democracy has always been a concept that has been held in contempt by elites, even in ancient Athens. And that attitude is alive and well. Democracy is an idea that we really have to put a lot of care into, and constantly be engaging with, and to me, that process absolutely does not require this weird, religious reverence for the Founding Fathers. That’s why I end the book on the image that let us not aspire to be Founding Fathers, but to be perennial midwives, birthing democracy anew. If you don’t renew it, if you don’t reinvent it, then it’s at risk of disappearing.

Good Question: Why Did Somalis Locate Here?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It is perhaps the least likely place to find tens of thousands of African refugees: the cold, snowy, middle of America. So why are there so many Somalis in Minnesota?

“Maybe someday they will enjoy the ice fishing,” laughed Dr. Ahmed Samatar, dean of the Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College. Samatar was born in Somalia.

As far as living in such a cold weather climate, “on the surface it may look bizarre,” said Samatar, however “there is so much goodness in this state.”

The Somalis are here as legal refugees, largely. The Somalis Minnesota story tracks to 1991, when civil war broke out in Somalia. Millions fled to refugee camps, many in Kenya.

Two years later, the first wave of Somali refugees were sent to Minnesota.

“In the beginning the U.S. federal government assigns people,” said Samatar.

To qualify as a refugee, there is a process. The U.S. State Department ultimately decides where refugees will live, but it has to do with the voluntary agencies, called VOLAGS, that contract with the State Department.

Minnesota has very active ones like Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities, and World Relief Minnesota. Those agencies agree to help the refugees get settled, to learn English, find housing, get health care, and begin a new life.

They “are known to be welcoming, and they invest a significant time of labor and resources, to help people find some comfort here and hope,” said Samatar.

It’s the same reason this is a population center for Hmong refugees. The VOLAGS make the initial wave happen. But just because people are relocated to a place like the Twin Cities, doesn’t mean they’ll stay.

“They have the opportunity to move,” said Samatar.

But the Somalis have largely stayed, somewhere around 30,000 of them, partially because of the strength of the non-governmental VOLAGS, and partially because of the strength of governmental programs to help refugees begin a new life, according to Samatar.

After the first wave is assigned here, the second wave of relatives and friends soon followed.

“As Somalis settle down, find a life, the good news spreads: ‘Hey this is a good place, you can find a life here,'” said Samatar.

Over the past 25 years, the United States has admitted about 84,000 Somali refugees. Close to 40 percent live in Minnesota.

“The institutions of this state, private or public, have an important place in the mind of Somalis,” he noted.

Arguments for Expanding the Number of House Members

Advocates for increasing the number of seats in the House say such a move would increase the quality of representation by reducing the number of constituents each lawmaker represents. Each House member now represents about 710,000 people.  

The group ThirtyThousand.org argues that the framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights never intended for the population of each congressional district to exceed 50,000 or 60,000. "The principle of proportionally equitable representation has been abandoned," the group argues.

Another argument for increasing the size of the House is that is would diminish the influence of lobbyists. That line of reasoning assumes that lawmakers would be more closely connected to their constituents and therefore less likely to listen to special interests.