Another Year of the Woman? Really?

There was a short piece in Monday’s USA Today saying that 2012 is shaping up to be another “Year of the Woman.”   And they did have some very good news numbers to back that notion:

 …a notable number of candidates are running in potentially competitive races in both the House of Representatives and Senate that could send a wave of female lawmakers to Washington in November. If so, it would reverse the 2010 election trend that saw the first dip in female representation in the House since 1978 and only sent one woman, New Hampshire Republican Kelly Ayotte, to the Senate.

In the 2012 Senate lineup, there are 10 female candidates — four Republicans and six Democrats — seeking office. Of the six states with female Democratic candidates — Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Dakota and Wisconsin — none has ever elected a woman to the Senate.

Republican women are running in Connecticut, Hawaii, Missouri and New Mexico.

I want to believe, oh how I want to believe. These numbers, though inching up, still represent a mere fractional increase—even if all of them are elected—a probability somewhere around that of hell freezing over.

At the rate we have been going for the last 20 years and since the first “Year of the Woman” in 1992, it will take 70 years to reach gender parity in Congress.

Still, the growing number of women running is a tribute to hard work by organizations like the Women’s Campaign Forum, White House Project, and Emily’s List over the last several decades, as well as newer groups such as Emerge America, Running Start, and the 2012 Project.

Let us also give a cheer for Hillary Clinton who put those 18 million cracks in the “highest and hardest” glass ceiling and showed young women once and for all that they really can grow up to be president.

The increase in women candidates also raises a new issue, heretofore swept under the rug. Whereas progressive, socially liberal women (Democrats and Republicans) opened the doors for all women to run for office, today woman run from across the political spectrum.

Candidates like right-wing Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin who oppose women’s reproductive rights, equal pay initiatives, and other policies that help women have a fair shot are indelible examples. In the past, women candidates of both parties were more likely to prioritize and support issues like education, health, child care, and reproductive justice. No more.

So no longer can women, or men who support women’s equality, blindly follow former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s admonition that “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Now, every responsible pro-woman voter must first check out female candidates’ agendas as well as their gender.

It’s time to be out of the closet about that fact and not fool ourselves that electing just any woman is good for women overall.

The solution to the problem always changes the problem.  Still, it’s a great problem to have.

And if 2012 brings about a measurable increase in women at the top of the policy making tree, it’ll be cheers all around. But let this also be a wake-up call to progressive women that this is the moment to step it up as voters, candidates, and activists.

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.

5 thoughts on “Another Year of the Woman? Really?

  1. Gloria, would you mind defining what progressive means to you? You seem quite comfortable with the term. I find it so hopelessly vague and so often misused that it seems to obscure more than it reveals. Perhaps it seems that way to me because US politics has drifted so far to the right that anyone closer to the middle can call themselves progressive. I can recall when progressive was claimed by the far left. On the other hand, Cornel West claimed the President publicly berated him after a speech for saying Obama is not a progressive, which to my mind is self-evident if progressive means anything at all like believing in meaningful progress. I think I understand what you mean by progressive, but perhaps you can understand why the term makes me squirm.

    The Free Soil Party will soon be issuing its own clarion call to women who are unhappy with the change Obama believes in to run for office, but it will not use the term progressive.

  2. Gloria, Aletha’s question is spot-on. The liberal & conservative labels are intended to put people & issues into tight political boxes of disparagement. The term “progressive” was coined by Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, who wanted changes that would cause the nation to become a better place & a higher standard of living for all citizens. When Roosevelt left office, he firmly believed that Taft would continue those efforts, but he returned from Europe to find Taft had capitulated to the worst of greedy corporate/family trusts who used & abused workers. Roosevelt’s efforts to again form a new Progressive Party failed.

    To me, the term “progressive” means anyone in either party who THINKS beyond limited label boxes about how our society can provide the best life for as many citizens as possible… and walks their talk! Anyone using labels to attack, ala Gingrich, is the opposite – a person with limited thinking who does not want our nation to grow into an even greater nation for all of its citizens.

    Frankly, I am sooooo tired of labels. Aren’t you? Hugs ~ Moms

  3. Gloria ~

    Forgot – I think your definition is “moderate” as applied to centrist positions regardless of party affiliation. Words can be very powerful destroyers of civil discussion & compromise for the general welfare of the country (as Gingrich has proven for 2+ decades). Don’t you wish we could have a summit to address what our national philosophy should be?

    Hugs ~ Moms

  4. Moms Hugs,
    I actually think we all need to learn to embrace controversy and use it to help foster healthy debate on the substance of issues rather than character assassination. So I’m not adverse at all to argument, but I certainly agree with you that we need to establish a culture in which we do that in a civil way.

    Thanks for your comment and your thought about how to further clarify the definition of “progressive.”

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