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!
The election season is upon us now in earnest with only a handful of primaries left to determine general election candidates for Congress and other offices.
A Massachusetts congressional primary this week offered a particularly compelling example of the pernicious impact of our antiquated winner-take-all voting system that yields plurality “winners” when more than two candidates run for a seat (ranked choice voting eliminates split votes among candidates.)
The 4th Congressional district vote totals shown above illustrate the extent to which women candidates are impacted by split votes: Four women candidates finished in the top five but a man “won” with just 22 percent of the vote—though votes are still being tallied and a recount may be in the works according to this story in the Boston Globe:
It’s unclear where their voters would have migrated if given the chance. Cavell, a former Obama speechwriter, was among the field’s more progressive candidates and often aligned with Mermell on issues, while Zannetos was perhaps its most moderate candidate. The tech entrepreneur had even rapped Mermell and other candidates for their support of a single-payer health care system in a television ad, saying they “would eliminate private health insurance.”
Becky Walker Grossman placed third in the unwieldy primary with more than 26,000 votes, and Natalia Linos, a Brookline epidemiologist who entered the race only in May, finished fourth.
Ihssane Leckey, a former Wall Street regulator from Brookline, and Alan Khazei, a cofounder of City Year and Brookline resident, followed. Zannetos, Brookline attorney Ben Sigel, and Cavell rounded out the voting.
Julie Hall of Attleboro beat David Rosa in the district’s Republican primary, according to unofficial results. Whichever Democrat emerges will be heavily favored on Nov. 3 in a district that Hillary Clinton won by 24 points in the 2016 presidential election and Barack Obama by 16 points four years earlier.
Another Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham writes:
“It’s about electing leaders who fully reflect voters’ wishes. A bonus: With ranked choice voting, anybody with a yen to run could do so.”
I so agree!
There was a very comprehensive piece in Roll Call by Bridget Bowman that reports on the likely wins and losses for Republican women this November. GOP women have a particularly hard time making it through primaries—in part because of sexist tropes about women candidates, but also because of the problem of split votes inherent in our winner-take-all voting system and fundraising challenges, according to Rep Susan Brooks and CEO of VIEW PAC Julie Conway:
Julie Conway, executive director of VIEW PAC, which is dedicated to electing more GOP women, noted that all five of the most vulnerable House Democrats are being challenged by Republican women.
“That has never happened,” she said, later adding, “All eyes are on those five seats.”
The Senate could have fewer GOP women after November, since Martha McSally of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia are all locked in competitive races. Though former Rep. Cynthia M. Lummis did win the GOP Senate primary to replace retiring Republican Michael B. Enzi in deep-red Wyoming, so she is expected to come to the chamber next year.
In the worst case scenario, where all four GOP women in tough races lose, the number of Republican women in the Senate would likely decrease to six. If they all win, that number would increase to 10.
So even in some of the best case scenarios, GOP women would make up just 10 percent of each chamber, compared with 20 percent for female Democrats.
“At the end of the day, the goal is to have a Congress that reflects America. At this moment, the number of Republican women in office and the number of Republican women who are going to be up in the general [election] doesn’t reflect that,” said Olivia Perez-Cubas, a spokeswoman for Winning for Women, which supports female GOP candidates.
While convincing GOP women to run has traditionally been a challenge, Brooks said this year Republicans have “broken through most of the obstacles in recruitment.”
Republican women were moved to run to counter Democratic women who found success in 2018, Brooks said. Losing the House majority also presented more opportunities to run in competitive districts, with challengers taking on first-term Democrats instead of a sitting Republican in a primary.
Still, some obstacles remain. Brooks and other Republicans listed fundraising as a persistent issue for female candidates. Another, despite the record number of female nominees this year, is primaries.
“We still have a challenge in getting women through primaries. We take a lot of ‘friendly fire,’” said Conway, referring to other outside groups such as the Club for Growth or the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus spending heavily in primaries, sometimes backing a male candidate over a female one.
Noted author Elaine Weiss had a fascinating piece in The New York Times about the opposition to women’s suffrage that continued after the 19th Amendment was adopted and was voiced just last week at the Republican National Convention:
The fight was over. But anti-suffrage forces still refused to accept the verdict.
“Tennessee has not ratified 19th Amendment,” Speaker Walker insisted in a furious wire to Colby. The official proclamation “will not cause any cessation of the fight in this state.”
Walker made good on that threat. Just days after the 19th Amendment became law, Tennessee actually rescinded its ratification. In a sneaky move, the speaker called his troops home from Alabama and rammed through the repeal while House amendment supporters were at home, then convinced the Senate to join by tying the legislators’ per diem pay to the nullification measure. The governor, facing re-election, signed on, but it was moot: There are no do-overs in the federal ratification process.
But that didn’t stop anti-suffragists taking their legal crusade all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was finally dismissed in 1922. And as we know, Tennessee and the other Southern states would subvert the 19th Amendment by applying Jim Crow voting restrictions — literacy tests, poll taxes, intimidation and violence — to Black women as well as to Black men for 45 more years.
On Wednesday we’ll salute the 19th Amendment with lights and ceremony, but the rage and backlash unleashed by the amendment’s expansion of voting rights and promise of a more inclusive democracy should not be ignored.
A national election is just weeks away, and racial justice and the protection voting and women’s rights are again front and center. We hear murmurs raising doubts about the legitimacy of the election and we see overt moves — including crippling the Post Office — to make voting more difficult. There have been angry rallies and real threats of intimidation at the polls. The president, according to his spokeswoman, is still considering whether he will abide by the results of the election.
In 1920, the nation was deeply divided on questions of voting rights and racial justice; in 2020, we still are, and progress is often met with resistance. That angry week in August a century ago might be a useful warning.
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After an incredible effort by Monumental Women and other supporters a statue was unveiled in Central Park last week to commemorate the centennial of suffrage. According to this story in Smithsonian Magazine by Nora McGreevy the unveiling was a milestone in the history of this most famous park:
On Wednesday, a 14-foot-tall bronze statue depicting famed suffragists Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton made its debut in New York City’s Central Park. The monument is the first sculpture of real women—several statues honor such fictional figures as Alice in Wonderland, Juliet and Mother Goose—installed in the park’s 167-year history.
“You’ve heard of breaking the glass ceiling,” Meredith Bergmann, the artist who designed the statue, tells CNN. “This sculpture is breaking the bronze ceiling.”
Unveiled in a livestreamed ceremony featuring suffragist writings recited by actors Viola Davis, Meryl Streep and America Ferrera, as well as an in-person address by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Women’s Rights Pioneers Monument has been in the works since 2014. Today’s ceremony was planned to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which enfranchised many—but not all—American women upon its August 18, 1920, ratification.
The nonprofit Monumental Women organization, also known as the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund, launched its campaign in response to the overwhelming number of public works centered on white men. As reported in the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s 2011 Art Inventories Catalog, just 8 percent of the 5,193 public outdoor sculptures then scattered across the country depicted women.
According to Alisha Haridasani Gupta of the New York Times, the “journey from concept to creation” has been a “long and winding one,” with numerous scholars and writers criticizing the project’s alleged whitewashing of black suffragists’ contributions to the movement. In recent months, the debate has taken on increased urgency as communities reckon with the racist, colonialist legacies of public monuments in their shared spaces
Most readers in the United States have probably heard about the story of California Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, who had to bring her newborn child to the floor because she was denied the right to vote by proxy. Proxy voting is a key systems strategy and a core RepresentWomen policy proposal to ensure that women can serve effectively once they are elected to office.
While remote voting was allowed in the California State Senate on Monday, Assemblymember Buffy Wicks, who gave birth in late July, said Assembly leadership denied her request to vote by proxy despite Covid-19 concerns.
Wicks, a former staffer for President Barack Obama, traveled to Sacramento from Oakland with her newborn for the final day of session and debated legislation until midnight after she was told that her recent labor did not qualify her as high-risk for the coronavirus.
“Please, please, please pass this bill,” she said on the Assembly floor while holding a swaddled 1-month-old and supporting legislation that would make it easier to create multi-unit housing. “And I’m going to go finish feeding my daughter.”
The denial of her request to have someone vote on her behalf, even as her Republican peers in the upper house were allowed to vote remotely, caused outrage in a state where Gov. Gavin Newsom has championed a “parents’ agenda” and pledged to prioritize policies like paid family leave. On the same night, lawmakers sent Newsom a bill expanding family leave protections by the narrowest of margins.
Wicks spokesperson Erin Ivie said Monday that the Assembly member was told that her request was denied “on the grounds that maternity leave is not eligible for proxy voting.”
September 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing that launched a quarter-century’s work to advance women’s representation and equality around the globe.
While many barriers remain to women in political office, 83 countries have employed innovative systems strategies to get more women elected and they now rank above the United States in women’s representation.
Hillary Clinton reflects on her role at the Beijing gathering in The Atlantic and offers her thoughts about the need to explore more innovative systems strategies—like gender quotas—to get more women into office in the United States:
Giving speeches was not usually a problem for me, but a lot was riding on this one, and I had a genuine case of nerves as I took the stage. Before me were 1,500 delegates, mainly women, of every race and ethnicity, who had traveled to Beijing for the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. What they all had in common in that moment was a daunting impassivity.
It was September 5, 1995. I had spent weeks writing and rewriting my speech. I wanted it to be bold, accessible, and unambiguous. I also thought hard about getting the delivery right. Women are often criticized if we show too much emotion in public, and I wanted to make sure my tone didn’t obscure the message. Hence, the nerves.
I started talking. As I spoke, each line was translated in real time into dozens of languages, creating a gap between me and the audience. Hundreds of delegates stared back blankly. This was my chance to change the way the world thought about women. And it didn’t seem to be going well.
On the flight to Beijing, I had pored over drafts with my speechwriter Lissa Muscatine and the foreign-policy experts crammed into my cabin. Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, had asked me a simple question: “What do you want to accomplish with this speech?” My answer had been equally simple: “I want to push the envelope as far as I can on behalf of women and girls.”
I have long believed—supported by Everests of evidence—that relegating women’s health, education, and economic participation to the margins of foreign and domestic policy is ruinous not just for women, but for entire nations. The Beijing conference represented a rare opportunity to focus the world’s attention on the status of women and girls. I wanted to break the silence about atrocities being committed in specific regions of the world, as well as injustices and abuses that are universal, including in developed democracies such as my own. Most of all, I wanted to argue that it was no longer acceptable to talk about human rights and women’s rights as separate topics. They were one and the same, and I was determined to make people hear this.
Twenty-five years after Beijing, it’s no longer enough to talk about women’s rights. We must augment women’s power in every sphere, including government, the economy, and national security. We can start by taking steps to increase women’s representation in the public and private sectors, whether by exploring quotas for gender parity in public office, broadening the success of gender-blind orchestra auditions to other employers, removing names from résumés, or following the lead of states where asking about salary history is now illegal.
We can demand that elected officials and employers alike recognize paid leave, affordable child care, and closing the gender pay gap as the urgent imperatives they are. We can build women’s economic power, including by investing in women-led businesses. And as we recover and rebuild after the pandemic, we can seize the opportunity to transform economic systems that discriminate against women and devalue essential caregiving work.
Consider Sweden, which in 2014 became the first country in the world to explicitly adopt a “feminist foreign policy.” As then–Foreign Minister Margot Wallström described it, the policy recognizes that “striving toward gender equality is not only a goal in itself but also a precondition for achieving our wider foreign, development, and security-policy objectives.” France, Canada, and Mexico have since taken steps to follow suit.
In addition to voting for women seeking positions of power, each of us can speak out, support organizations promoting women’s rights and power, and engage in peaceful protest movements. We can support mentoring and role modeling, and work to change messages in media. We can call out sexism and racism, and challenge insidious norms in our culture, workplaces, and households. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment, a milestone we had hoped could be celebrated with events across America. Though the pandemic has rendered that nearly impossible, an equally fitting tribute is to commit ourselves to new platforms for action, in our own country and on the world stage. And someday soon, I hope we will elect a woman president of the United States.
That’s a sentence that’s painful to write. But here’s something that gives me hope: 25 years ago, speaking in Beijing as first lady, I thought I had reached the peak of power and influence that would ever be available to me. I was determined to use it to lift up the concerns and rights of women. Yet it turned out my journey was far from over, and I would get the chance to carry those concerns into the highest levels of government and politics. What we think are peaks can turn out to be frustrating plateaus. But they also can be way stations on a higher climb. That’s what I think about when I see young women around the world who have no patience for gradual change and no intention of slowing down. They believe a new world order is not only possible, but necessary and urgent, and they’re absolutely right
Remember to check out the #FeministReading suggestions from the team at RepresentWomen!
Please forgive any typos—my new intern Maisie is learning on the job.
I will be canning tomatoes this weekend and thinking about the work ahead.
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