Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!
Normalizing women’s power and leadership can take many forms—my favorite example from this week is the number of women authors selected as finalists for the coveted 2020 Booker Prize.
According to this story in Vulture, nine of the 13 nominees—selected from a pool of 162—are women:
No beheadings here: The Booker Prize has released its 2020 longlist, which includes Hilary Mantel’s very robust Thomas Cromwell–palooza, The Mirror and the Light, one of the 13 novels being tapped for the literary distinction. Per the New York Times, the authors — nine of whom are women — were selected from a pool of 162. In addition to Mantel, who has already won the Booker Prize twice for the other two books in her Cromwell series, the following authors also earned a spot on the longlist: Diane Cook, The New Wilderness; Tsitsi Dangarembga, This Mournable Body; Avni Doshi, Burnt Sugar; Gabriel Krauze, Who They Was; Colum McCann, Apeirogon; Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King; Kiley Reid, Such a Fun Age; Brandon Taylor, Real Life; Anne Tyler, Redhead by the Side of the Road; Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain; Sophie Ward, Love and Other Thought Experiments; and C Pam Zhang, How Much of These Hills Is Gold.
As protocol dictates, the prize’s shortlist will be unveiled in September, with the winner (or dare we say, winners) having a grand reveal in November.
My second favorite news story relating to women’s achievement comes from the Emmy nominees I believe are a terrific—and widely accepted—example of the use of gender categories to ensure that women are nominated and win.
While there are some problems with the current binary approach—as this article in Variety rightly suggests, I think the categories ensure that women are recognized for their work. I am reminded of the Oscars last year—which does not have a gendered category for women directors—there were many great films directed by women, but no female directors were nominated.
Until women are regularly nominated in the non-gendered categories, the current rules are the only assurance that women will be nominated and win.
As a reminder, the reason that 80 or so countries rank above the United States in women’s representation is that they have gender categories for women candidates.
Here is an excerpt from the piece in Variety:
Ultimately, having “actress” and “actor” designations still leaves no room for nonbinary performers, and also perpetuates the sexist origins of segregating nominees by gender.
“Awards shows must immediately abolish gender distinctions in acting categories, as a way of reckoning with the discriminatory policy of separating performers based on gender and with the sexist history of Hollywood, which told non-trans women their only place was on camera, and told nonbinary people there was no place for them in Hollywood at all,”
While I’ve offered various solutions to the issue of fewer nominees, there’s the rightful lingering concern that women—and in particular women of color—would see their representation diminish should the gendered categories be combined. This indeed is an issue that would need to be addressed. Early signs, including this year’s TCA noms, hopefully indicate that strides are being made in bringing parity and diversity to Hollywood awards.
Indian Country Today reports in a piece this week that at least a dozen candidates won races in primaries this week:
All four Native candidates running for office in Kansas won their primary elections Tuesday, including one who is the presumptive winner of a state House seat, and will become Kansas’ youngest sitting legislator, after no one filed to run against her in November.
Twenty-six-year-old first-time candidate Christina Haswood, Diné, won her Democratic primary with 70 percent of the vote.
“It’s still surreal,” Haswood said Tuesday night. “I just want to thank my voters for supporting me in this important election.”
On Wednesday morning, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez rang praise for Haswood.
“Change is happening with this election, and Christina Haswood is part of that change,” Nez said. “I am very proud of her and all that she has accomplished to this point. She is truly an inspiration to our people, especially our young people.”
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, of Kansas, ran unopposed in her bid for a second term in Congress, and will advance to the general election.
And Beth Doglio ran behind another strong woman candidate in the race for a House seat in the 10th Congressional district in Washington state—according to this story in The New York Times—which means that the House delegation will likely be majority women regardless of the outcome of the top two races and Washington state may get an A on RepresentWomen’s Gender Parity Index.
In Washington, Ms. Tlaib’s and Ms. Bush’s victories had the effect of sending a clear message to those who still doubted: The Squad and its allies are resilient.
Two more contests in the coming month will bring further clarity to the Democratic Party landscape, as Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, another Squad member, faces a well-funded primary opponent next week. And on Sept. 1 in Massachusetts, Alex Morse, a 31-year-old mayor who has support from progressive groups like Justice Democrats, is looking to unseat Representative Richard E. Neal, the chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.
The team at RepresentWomen is looking for thought partners to elevate the importance of this conversation in the United States. (Let me know if you want to be part of that team!)
Groups supporting women candidates do matter in a candidate-centered system. They respond to the individual ethos of U.S. elections, helping aspirant women pull themselves up by their electoral bootstraps. Donor organizations and training programs provide female aspirants with money, networks, acumen, and inspiration, leveling the playing field between women and men. They emphasize empowerment, combining “you can win” messages with reminders that women’s voices improve outcomes—the same instrumental reasoning used by international policymakers and philanthropists.
But a narrative exhorting women to lean in still implies that women’s deficiencies are what keep them out and that the burden of solving the problem falls to them. Flipping the script suggests instead that men should lean out. Focusing on what’s wrong with women overlooks how sex-based discrimination places systematic, structural barriers before women candidates while removing them for men.
Narratives about women’s ambition deficit let governments off the hook for achieving substantive equality. Instead, focusing on the “right to be elected” would allow advocates in the United States to call obstacles such as the performance premium what they are: violations of women’s political rights. When framed this way, positive action seems more tenable. The range of policy options goes beyond quotas and includes reducing or eliminating filing fees for women candidates, or allocating party funds for women’s campaigns or leadership training. Some countries even classify the sexist treatment and harassment of women politicians, whether in the media or online, as forms of political violence that carry legal penalties.
Many countries also apply quota laws to not just candidates, but to political parties’ governing boards. Others require women’s names on short lists at the pre-candidate stage, that is, when party leaders choose whom to endorse (think Mitt Romney and his “binders full of women”).
These reforms would translate to U.S. federal and state politics and might not even need legislation. For instance, the Democratic Party already requires that delegates to the national convention be comprised of 50 percent men and 50 percent women and all committees, including the Democratic National Committee, be comprised of 50 percent men and 50 percent women—though the party statutes are clear that this gender balance is not a quota! The Republican Party opts for a lighter touch, but nonetheless asks that each state “endeavor” to have equal numbers of men and women in its delegations to the national convention. In the absence of national quota laws, political parties in Germany, Sweden, South Africa, and Mozambique, among others, have voluntarily adopted quotas for women candidates. These measures have catapulted large numbers of women into office—all without government intervention.
Positive action, of course, has a tortured and unique history in the United States. The legacy of enslavement and the association of affirmative action with race means that positive rights claims gain little social or legal traction. Legal scholar Ruth Rubio-Marín explains that, by focusing on the injustice of patriarchy, gender parity arguments separate the question of women’s political exclusion from the political exclusion of racial or ethnic minority groups. This rhetorical separation worked elsewhere, but in the United States, where white supremacy and patriarchy are intertwined, Rubio-Marín believes any discussion of positive action for women necessitates simultaneous discussion of positive action for Black Americans. The combined forces of racism and sexism make this possibility unlikely.
Emily J. Zackin offers a more optimistic take on the likelihood of positive action. In Looking for Rights in All the Wrong Places (2013), she points out that while the Constitution is silent on positive rights, such rights abound in state constitutions, from guarantees to public education to protections of workers’ rights. These rights were won by dedicated activists who lobbied state legislators, engaged in strategic litigation, and waged successful campaigns for ballot referenda. In Zackin’s view, the notion of governments’ affirmative obligation to deliver material goods or produce equitable outcomes is not an alien concept, but an idea readily endorsed by voters and lawmakers.
The international community embraced gender quotas and gender parity because, one by one, women politicians and feminist activists in each country wrote proposals that matched their country’s realities. Three centuries ago, the right to elect and be elected intended to deny women citizenship. In recent decades, women in Latin America and across the globe transformed this exclusionary phrase into a trumpet for equality, forcing the conversation about political representation to center around citizenship and justice. In doing so, they pushed election law and party practice beyond what jurists and scholars could have imagined a century or two ago. As the United States celebrates a hundred years of suffrage but remains tied with Afghanistan for the number of women in the federal legislature, U.S. feminists might do the same. The impossible only becomes possible if someone tries.
Exceptionally well said Jennifer.
Lauren Leader, co-founder and CEO of All In Together, had a timely piece in the in The Hill about the recent buzz over comments that Kamala Harris was “too ambitious” a catch-22 that many women politicians find themselves in:
Last April, I wrote an op-ed for these pages calling out the sexist double standards that the six women running for the Democratic nomination at that time were facing. I showed that not only were women running getting overlooked by the media and receiving less coverage than the men, but the coverage they did get was also overwhelmingly negative.
In particular, women were more likely to be described as “ambitious,” a term meant as a slur, not a compliment. The piece went viral and was picked up by the Daily Show. They did a spoof ridiculing this kind of blatant misogyny. Women everywhere nodded in agreement. A year later, nothing has changed.
Explosive reporting from CNBC found that Biden “insiders” were actively campaigning against the prospect of Kamala Harris as VP because she is “too ambitious” struck a nerve. Twitter lit up immediately with comments from women everywhere, pointing out the outrageous sexist double standard that is so glaring in a story like this.
You may feel Harris is not the right person for the ticket based on the disorganization and infighting reported from her presidential run. Or there may be strategic reasons why a senator for California is not the right choice. But targeting Harris based on her ambition is deeply offensive blatant sexism.
Biden will announce his VP pick next week, and interest is running high. He has committed to picking a woman, and there’s the widespread belief it is likely to be a Black woman. There are many highly qualified, talented women running, but the ambition trope leaked from the campaign gives us a small preview of what’s to come to no matter who he picks.
Memo to Joe Biden’s running-mate-to-be: Congratulations for standing on the cusp of history!
Now, get ready for an onslaught of online misogyny unlike anything you’ve ever seen.
The 2020 Democratic primary offered a preview of how a national candidate who happens to be a woman can expect to be hit, particularly on social media.
Lucina Di Meco, who studies gender and leadership issues at the Wilson Center, employed data analytics from the nonpartisan firm Marvelous AI to track how the half-dozen Democratic contenders at the front of the presidential pack were treated on Twitter at the outset of their campaigns.
She found that the three leading women — Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) — faced more attacks than their male competitors from right-wing and fake-news sites between December 2018 and April 2019.
“In addition, the social media narratives about female candidates are more negative and mostly concerned their character, as opposed to their policies,” Di Meco noted. Her report, “#ShePersisted: Women, Politics and Power in the New Media World,” was released in November.
Twitter chatter about Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and then-Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., focused on their electability; meanwhile, Harris was portrayed as inauthentic, Warren was accused of lying about her ethnic heritage, and online conversation about Klobuchar kept coming back to reports that she had been mean to staffers.
This is the dark side of the empowerment, visibility and connectivity that women have found on social media in recent years as the #MeToo movement brought to light their stories of sexual abuse.
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We have 100 years of evidence. Women voting isn’t enough to bring equality into our politics. The system is still set up to advantage men. As a result, the Council on Foreign Relations ranked the United States 125th in the world in its 2020 Women’s Power Index, much closer to the bottom than the top. The modern democracies that scored higher on parity have recruitment norms and voting systems like RCV that help elect more women and “mainstream” the idea of having women in power. Indeed, the many women heads of state — in Germany, New Zealand, and elsewhere — credited for quickly reducing the dangers from the COVID-19 pandemic all were first elected to their parliament through a proportional system.
The United States has a long tradition of attempting to address systemic problems with systemic solutions. Whether it’s Title IX addressing gender parity in education, the Voting Rights Act, or the Americans With Disabilities Act, we know that the right way to combat inequality is to find an answer that gives everyone greater opportunity, even if problems persist with these remedies. The cracks in our political system have become an increasingly serious part of our political conversation. Ranked choice voting, meanwhile, is catching on nationwide, in part because of the number of electoral problems it helps solve.
Partisans from across the ideological spectrum have recognized the advantages of ranked choice voting — the partisan-neutral tool has been adopted for internal party elections and even some Congressional primaries and presidential primaries and caucuses. There are now ranked choice voting advocacy groups in 32 states and the District of Columbia, active statewide ballot measures in Alaska and Massachusetts, and measures pending ballot approval in North Dakota, Arkansas, and half a dozen cities.
Maine is currently the only state to use ranked choice voting for statewide elections, but there are 62 pieces of ranked choice voting legislation pending in other states that would provide localities the option to use RCV or expand its use statewide. There are three bills that have been introduced in the 116th Congress related to RCV: the Fair Representation Act (HR 4000), which calls for ranked choice voting and the creation of multiseat districts for House races; the Ranked Choice Voting Act (HR 4464), which proposes the use of ranked choice voting for all elections to the U.S. House and Senate; and the Voter Choice Act (S 3340), which would provide federal grants to states transitioning to ranked choice voting.
Ranked choice voting, explained by Hasan Minhaj on his show, Patriot Act, is recommended by Robert’s Rules of Order, is used at many colleges and universities and by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and has been endorsed by many leading newspapers including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Economist. This spring the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship added their voice to the chorus calling for the widespread adoption of ranked choice voting.
Women who fought for the right to vote wanted a system that would ensure genuine political equality between men and women. They wanted not just a seat at the table, but their fair share of seats. The best way to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment is by creating enduring electoral change that will help all women achieve parity in our politics.
I recommend reading the whole piece but here is an excerpt:
Women’s suffrage is sometimes portrayed as the triumphant end of a movement, the hard-won reward for decades of marches, protests, hunger strikes, feeding tubes. Really, it was a beginning. One of many times America has transformed itself to make the government more accountable to more of its citizens, at least in theory.
On the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, we could think about life a full century ago. But we could also think about life 99 years ago, when the country first started to realize how much power voting women now had, and how they might choose to wield it. We could think about what the amendment changed and what it didn’t.
Let’s get the easy repercussions out of the way first, the legislative descendants of the 19th Amendment. Without it, there could have been no Title IX in 1972, which barred discrimination against women in university settings or educational institutions receiving federal funding. There could have been no Lilly Ledbetter Act of 2009, which inched the country toward pay equality.
After the ratification of the 19th Amendment, more women began seeking out public office, particularly at the local level. When, in November of 1920, one Oregon town replaced its entire town council with women, the New York Times headlined it, “Sex Uprising in Yoncalla.”
A thought experiment for women today: Pick a date — maybe Aug. 18, the official day of ratification? — and pause every time you do something you probably couldn’t do if the 19th Amendment didn’t exist. A lot of us wouldn’t make it to our desks at work. Some of us wouldn’t make it past the breakfast table. We’d be felled by our morning pill routine: In a world without the 19th, one assumes that Comstock laws would still consider mail-delivered birth control “obscene.”
Congratulations to our ReflectUS partners Women’s Public Leadership Network (co-founded by RepresentWomen board member Rina Shah) who have awarded half a million dollars in grants to groups that support right-leaning women candidates around the country including: Rise New Mexico, Virginia Conservative Women’s Coalition, Colorado Women’s Alliance, LBJ Women’s Campaign School, the Pocketbook Project, She Holds the Key, VoteHer, Louisiana Women Lead, Nevada Women’s Alliance and the Colorado Women’s Alliance Foundation.
- Register for a session with Tiffany and the team at Surge on August 13th at 1 p.m. EDT.
- Register for a session with Tiffany and Vote Mama on August 13th at 7 p.m.
- Register for a session with me and Tiffany on August 27 at 7 p.m.
Finally, this week marks the 55th anniversary of passage of the Voting Rights Act that expanded the franchise dramatically and is a powerful example of a systems strategy designed to create equal opportunity and equity. Here is an excerpt from the online site History:
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Voting Rights Act is considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation in U.S. history
Here’s to the giants of the women’s rights and civil rights movement who came before us and who walk among us now.
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