When was the last time a male politician was asked about his hairstyle or his pantsuit?

On April 27, at the White House Correspondents Dinner, hair was the beginning punch line of President Barack Obama’s speech. He joked that his team try one of his wife Michelle’s tricks — bangs — to revamp and energize his second term. He then proceeded to show images of himself with Photoshopped bangs.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s funny. Michelle Obama getting bangs was a big deal to the media, but it struck a chord with me. Why do female leaders and icons have heightened awareness with their appearance? Why is it such a big deal, a front-page-worthy event, for Michelle Obama to get bangs?

Negative portrayals
Female leaders in this country are disrespected and demoralized daily. As seen in the acclaimed documentary “Miss Representation,” it becomes unsurprising that our country ranks 90th in terms of women in  U.S. Congress.

The negative media portrayal of women does a disservice to our government and its constituents, for the impacts on decision- and policy-making are only aided by parity in government.

Evidenced by the research of Julia Baird for The Daily Beast, if articles and polls such as “Is Sarah Palin Porn?” and the “10 Hottest Conservative Women” in publications such as Harper’s, Playboy and Right Wing News, or even articles about Michelle Obama’s and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s hairstyles are fed to consumers, it is a wonder that those consumers don’t take female politicians seriously. The reason women don’t run for office shouldn’t be that shocking once you turn on the television or the pages of your magazine, because there isn’t any respect for female intellectuals.

Despite the reasons women might not run for office, Washington state saw an influx of women being elected to office in 2012: 65 women ran for legislative seats, with 37 elected, as noted by Linda Mitchell in The Seattle Times. This was deemed to be another “Year of the Woman,” much like that of 1994. Sadly, as Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox found for their 2010 book “It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office,” the election of women into federal office led to only a 1- to 2-percent increase of women in U.S. Congress.

Raising generations of leaders
Women need to have a seat at the table — not only to offer perspective on women’s rights but to diversify opinions and make more informed decisions.

We would be lying to ourselves if we didn’t think women were capable of handling positions in office. As Ronald Riggio, director of the Kravis Leadership Institute Psychology, found in his studies, women have been said to be more influential, cooperative, long-term thinkers, who can contribute a different leadership style. All of these things are important in shaping a healthy, inclusive and democratic government.

It all starts by making women believe that they are wanted and needed in government.

How do we let them know they are wanted? Simple, ask the qualified women you know in your life to run for office. Your support will let them know that they aren’t alone.

If we begin to have confidence in the women in this country, we will raise generations of happier and more fulfilled girls. Who doesn’t want happier mothers, sisters, daughters, cousins and nieces? Let them know that you care about them, beyond their hair or wardrobe choices.

RACHEL LIVENGOOD is a Queen Anne resident and is a senior at The Center School. She will attend Santa Clara University this fall as a potential political science major. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.