Women Move, World Improves
Good news has been in such very short supply lately. Beyoncé did have twins. Joey Chestnut set a new record at the Coney Island hot-dog eating contest. Kentucky sold a billion dollars in lottery tickets for the first time …
O.K., here’s a real one: Women’s involvement in politics seems to be skyrocketing — they’re doing everything from petitioning Congress to planning their own campaigns. Groups that help prepare women to run for office are reporting an unprecedented number of website visits, training-school sign-ups and meeting attendance.
Everything is going to get better! There’ll be more bipartisanship in Congress, more rationality in foreign affairs and better government on the state and local levels. Corruption will drop, voter satisfaction will soar and never again will the governor of a major state spend a holiday sunbathing on a public beach that’s closed to the rest of the public due to a budget crisis.
All right, we’re only totally positive about the last one.
Still, more gender equality in politics is a great goal. While there have been some really terrible, truly awful women elected to public office over the years, as a group women seem to be better at working with others. For instance, female senators have regular bipartisan dinners in Washington. There was a time when this would not have been a big deal, but in the current climate it’s akin to Nixon in China.
Women also tend to bring a mood of reform, since they’re often coming from the outside. “It’s the women who in many ways feel — if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu,” said Debbie Walsh at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
The center runs training programs for women candidates in perpetually scandal-prone New Jersey, and their success is proof of the theory that voters will turn to women when they feel the political status quo is horrible. “When we started, New Jersey was in the bottom 10 for women in the legislature,” said Walsh. “Now, it’s 14th from the top. Indictments have been very, very good to us.”
Progress on this front is not necessarily guaranteed to last. The center’s ranking of state legislatures puts Wyoming last in the percentage of women, which is extremely sad for a place that calls itself “the Equality State” because it was the first to give women the right to vote. Wyoming does have Dick Cheney’s daughter Liz in the House of Representatives, and you will have to decide for yourself whether you think that is a good plan.
Cathy Connolly, who’s a state representative and professor of women’s studies at the University of Wyoming, says the legislative schedule was set up to accommodate ranchers: “We work around the clock for 40 days one year and 20 the other in the dead of the winter. … It’s disproportionately retired men.”
But even Wyoming is looking for a leap forward. Connolly is co-chair of a women’s caucus that is — of course — bipartisan. (“Its only goal is to recruit more women and be supportive of each other when we serve.”) She feels that same surge of new interest, “and it is wonderful.”
Women have been setting record-breaking web traffic at Emily’s List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women’s campaigns. Stephanie Schriock, the president, thinks the motives run from “fear of slipping backward” after Hillary Clinton’s loss to a sense of solidarity engendered by the marches after Donald Trump’s inauguration. Now the visitors are stoked, and looking for information on how to run for anything “from school board to the U.S. Senate.”
(If you’re reading this piece and thinking at this very moment that you might want to jump in, I should warn you that running for the U.S. Senate is not really the place to begin. But if you’re wealthy, famous and want to find a male incumbent who’s truly worthy of being chased out of town, Ted Cruz is up for re-election in 2018. Just saying.)
Right now, Democrats seem to be having much more success in recruiting women than Republicans are. Some experts think it’s because when female Democrats donate money they tend to target women candidates, while on the Republican side gender doesn’t seem to matter all that much.
Think about this, Republican women. If Senate leaders hadn’t appointed just 13 men to that special health care bill-writing group, the bill would have been better. This is a fact based on the evidence that it could not possibly have been worse.
If this sudden interest in putting more women into office translates into action, it’ll be about time. Women still hold just under 25 percent of the seats in the nation’s state legislatures, and just under 20 percent of the seats in Congress. There are only six women governors, which is incredibly depressing.
And of course we have never had a woman president. The way to get one, two or 10 is to have tons of women on every level of government, pouring talent from the towns to the states to Washington.
Time to get moving. Wyoming, we’re looking at you.