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Valerie Young's picture

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Thank heavens the campaign season is finally over. I was so done with the constant political commercials and their scary, sneering tone. “Vote for our guy, because the other guy is evil incarnate, and death and destruction will rain down from the skies if he is elected.” Yuck. My children were capable of more honest and intelligent speech before they even had teeth.

The very best thing about last week’s electoral bally-hoo was that so much of the really big news had to do with women, both as candidates and as voters. If you took women out of the picture, the election results would look utterly different. Both parties realize that the female electorate can be won, and both tried very hard to do so.  In the end, the President was re-elected and the U.S. Senate retained its Democratic majority on the basis of women’s votes.

About 60 percent of all eligible voters showed up at the polls, and as usual, more women than men cast ballots. Women delivered the Presidency to Barack Obama, because he gained more women’s votes than he lost men’s votes to Mitt Romney. This time around, the gender gap stretched 18 points, half again as wide as the 12 point gap between men and women’s presidential votes in 2008. The President won 53 percent of all women’s votes, 67 percent of single women’s votes, and 60 percent of both genders aged 29 and under, who, incidentally, came out in greater numbers than the over 65 voting crowd. (So much for the old stereotype that the young are apathetic and disengaged from politics.)  Exit poll data show that 56 percent of women with children voted to re-elect the President.

There were more women candidates in this election than ever before. In January for the first time 20 women will take their place in the U.S. Senate, including the first Asian-American woman and the first openly gay woman. If only men voted in this election six key states would have seen Republican contenders win and the U.S. Senate would have a Republican majority.

On the House side of the Hill, eight more women will serve this session, bringing the total to at least 81. Two are veterans with military combat experience, two are under 40, and one is the House’s first Hindu. White men no longer comprise the majority of Democrats in the House. In spite of these gains for women, our representation in Congress is only a paltry 18 percent or so, a figure deemed “pathetic” by Sam Bennet of the Women’s Campaign Fund. Until we hit the magic figure of 30 percent, our influence in setting the agenda and crafting policy will be blunted.

Still, the balance of power is certainly shifting. It’s quite possible that the first female president is already known to us and acting on the public stage. Women vote and are willing to shift their loyalties to whomever they feel better responds to their concerns and priorities. While the economy and jobs are priorities, so are access to health care, contraception and paid leave.

While our representation in the U.S. Congress remains low, our share of the electorate is impossible to ignore. Women are in the driver’s seat in deciding who will lead this country. Ladies, start your engines.

‘Til next time,

Your (Wo)Man in Washington

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