It goes without saying that those elected to these positions must accurately and holistically represent our student body – indeed, such is the very purpose of a democratic election. That said, there are certain peculiarities which exist in the campus political sphere that boggle the minds of those of us who fully believe in the democratic ethos.
The most confusing, in our opinion, is the underrepresentation of women in SGA executive offices. Women constitute 55 percent of the student body at Alabama. Yet in the last three election cycles, women have won exactly five out of 21 total executive races – less than a quarter.
We would be remiss to discuss elections without recognizing the Machine’s influence. The Machine has only supported a female candidate for SGA President five times in its century-long history, the last being Virginia Boyd more than a decade ago. In this election cycle, the highly-qualified Polly Ricketts has secured the Machine nomination for the second highest office in SGA leadership, Executive Vice President. However, she is the first woman to do so since 2006. It should also be noted that Ricketts gained her experience as Executive Secretary, the position the Machine traditionally relegates to women alone. While we wish to take nothing from the very qualified Katrina Swarthout, we nonetheless feel obligated to point out that this election cycle marks at least the fourth in a row where the Machine chose to nominate a female candidate for the position.
It’s common knowledge that our sorority women support Machine candidates more fervently than do their fraternity counterparts. Sororities consistently post higher voter turnout numbers than fraternities, yet the Machine typically chooses to reward them with leftovers. In our view, such treatment is inherently unfair.
Unfortunately, however unfair it may be, history suggests we should expect it. This pattern of Machine behavior has been its mode of operation since its inception. In the March 22, 1961, edition of The Crimson White, it was reported that Machine members often “laughingly discussed” various women’s initiatives on campus as “‘trivial thing[s]’ to keep the girls happy,” and that the Machine frequently used “various ‘pressures’” to force the sororities to toe its line – a reference which appears repeatedly in many Crimson White articles over the decades since.
Putting pressure on the sororities? Not giving them a say in major decisions? Unfair treatment? To be frank, that sounds more like a bad boyfriend than it does a political organization with the best interests of its constituents at heart.
In the interest of fairness, we will point out that male political dominance does not begin and end downstairs. There are currently no non-Machine women running for an executive office. And, on the bright side, this election cycle marks the first in several years where the Machine has chosen to nominate more than two women for executive office. However, this, too, suggests a problem: we’ve created a culture wherein the only way for women to find worth is to let the Machine give it to them.
The most unfortunate aspect of this sad state of affairs, though, is that this is not simply the Machine’s doing. It’s that our sorority women have allowed the Machine to do it to them.
In 1976, Kappa Kappa Gamma bravely led a revolt that eventually encompassed several sororities by publicly backing Cleo Thomas, the non-Machine presidential candidate. After Thomas’s victory by a wide margin, the Machine chose to temporarily relent with its normal tactics of intimidation and gave the sororities their due by bringing female representatives into the basement for the first time. Indeed, the Feb. 10, 1976, edition of The Crimson White reported that “sororities had gained new political confidence” following the election. Kappa Kappa Gamma shows us the power of female voices on this campus to enact change.
Perhaps this campus needs a little bit of that courage again. Perhaps the best way to right the statistical wrongs we have outlined is for our sorority women to show the complacent Machine and other campus political players that their votes are no longer to be taken for granted, and to bring back some of that political confidence. Perhaps it’s time this campus learns to value and respect its female leadership.
Perhaps it’s time for another revolt.
Andrew Parks is a senior majoring in political science. Caroline Bechtel is a senior majoring in operations management.