Women in Congress
You can’t work in the social justice field like I do without celebrating small victories – most of the time, small may be the only kind of victory available! If you don’t make the most of little reasons to be happy, you just get burned out and depleted. There’s so much to accomplish you have to keep the forward momentum going, even when progress seems glacially slow, or worse, appears to be moving backwards!
So, I cheered at recent announcements by women who’ve decided to campaign for public office. (After all, how many stories about Anthony Weiner’s crotch shots can a woman take?) For a handful of women, going into politics may be more like going into the family business. We’re familiar with political dynasties like the Kennedys, the Bushes, and going farther back, the Adamses. Thus far in our history, if one generation followed another into the halls of power, it was almost certainly men following their fathers. Finally, some daughters are stepping up, and in light of the flattening rate of women’s political participation in recent years, I’m daring to hope more women will follow their lead.
This headline from the Washington Post grabbed my attention because it is so unusual – Heiresses Apparent: Daughters Take Their Turn for the Political Dynasty. Of course the whole “dynasty” concept is over blown, and the notion of “heiress” doesn’t comfortably fit, but still, this marks a significant development for women. Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, has declared her intention to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate if she can get around incumbent Republican Senator Dick Enzi. Michelle Nunn is the daughter of Sam Nunn who put in 24 years in the U.S. Senate. She hopes to win the same seat representing Georgia, and is counting on her name recognition to pay off in the campaign. Gwen Graham is running for a U.S. House seat in Florida, the state her father Bob Graham served in the U.S. Senate. Erin Bilbray has tossed her hat in the ring hoping to follow her father under the Capitol dome as part of the Nevada delegation. Alison Lundergan Grimes would like to occupy the seat of U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from Kentucky. Her prospects would be pretty slim … except that her father’s legacy as a state senator and power player has endowed her effort with some real credibility, according to the article.
All of this is great news, as the level of women in Congress has hovered around 18% for years, and the “Year of the Woman,” marking women’s grand entrance into political equality, was more than 20 years ago! Nonetheless, it’s well-established that women are just as effective as men at raising money and waging campaigns, and that they introduce and co-sponsor more legislation than men once elected. Beyond gender equality, the real benefit to having more women in public office is the diversification of issues addressed, and the broader range of approaches and solutions offered by multiple perspectives and life experiences.
One example of the “value added” by women on the Hill is a hefty legislative proposal introduced by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Nancy Pelosi called “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds: An Economic Agenda for Women & Families.“ Introduced a few days ago, it is most clearly NOT your typical bill. It tackles work/family balance, child care challenges, pay equity, discrimination against pregnant workers, and paid maternity leave. As Rep. DeLauro and Rep. Pelosi wrote for a CNN opinion piece, “Too many women face financial pressures simply because of outdated policies and a “Mad Men” view of the world that constrain opportunities for women’s full participation in our economy. Our country’s policies simply do not reflect the way families live today, with both parents in the workforce and more single-parent households than ever. A second income is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.” Their proposal acknowledges that family caregivers are also likely earning essential household income, and that the American workplace is still operating as if every worker was full-time with a full-time wife and mother at home. With less than a quarter of U.S. households made up of a mother, father and their biological children, today’s families desperately need public policies in step with their day to day reality. Legislators who have raised children and managed families know that.
So, support female candidates for office, encourage the women you know to run, consider running yourself, and the quality of life for all of us will improve. I long for the day when a headline like this one is commonplace – “Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers Expecting Third Child.” Not only is she the first woman to give birth twice while serving in Congress, she will soon break her own record and deliver her third! That’s exactly what we need – legislators with more skin in the game. Literally.
‘Til next time,
Your (Wo)Man in Washington
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