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 results are in from the Boston mayoral primary and two women—Annissa Essabi George and Michelle Wu—will advance to the general election ensuring that Boston will have a woman mayor come November no matter who wins. E.J. Dionne wrote this commentary about the milestone election results, and the likely split vote between the two Black women candidates, in The Washington Post:
In a few minutes, 36-year-old Boston City Councilor Michelle Wu would take the stage at an outdoor victory party in her Roslindale neighborhood to claim the top runoff spot in this fall’s election for mayor.
This is a city that has long been international and proudly parochial, genteel and tough-as-nails, feminist in theory and male-dominated in its politics, liberal and — I’m being extremely polite — deeply divided by race. On a lovely Tuesday evening, as the votes in the nonpartisan contest slowly rolled in, it was witnessing a peaceful revolution.
Wu, the top finisher by a significant margin, is a Chicago-born lawyer and the daughter of immigrants from Taiwan. Coming in second and winning the right to be Wu’s challenger in November was Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, also the daughter of immigrants — a Tunisian father and a Polish mother.
Close behind Essaibi George were two Black women, Councilor Andrea Campbell and acting mayor Kim Janey.
You have no doubt already noticed that the top four are all women of color — this in a city that had never had a Black or female mayor until Janey assumed the job in an acting capacity after President Biden named former mayor Marty Walsh as his labor secretary.
The female council members, who had proudly dubbed themselves “sisters in service,” together amassed roughly 95 percent of the ballots. Most of the rest went to John Barros, the city’s former chief of economic development, who is Black.
The dispersion of the Black vote among three Black candidates — Campbell, Janey and Barros — almost certainly prevented one of them from making the runoff. Both Campbell and Janey, who nearly tied at just under 20 percent of the vote each, ran about three points behind Essaibi George.A value of ranked choice voting is that it eliminates split votes between or among similar candidates.
The team at RepresentWomen (RW) published a new report this week on the political representation of first-generation Americans from 1789 to the present with a special focus on the representation of first-generation women. Kaycie Goral, RW’s digital manager and media outreach specialist, and Alisha Saxena, RW’s research associate, co-wrote a terrific piece that ran in The Fulcrum about the report:
The American Immigration Council reported that roughly 44.7 million first-generation Americans lived in the United States earlier this year. Within this population, there were approximately 2 million more women than men. Despite making up about 14 percent of the U.S. population, first-gen Americans, specifically first-gen women, are hardly represented as a community within our political bodies.
Did you know that the first foreign-born woman was not elected to Congress until 1989? This is an intersectional issue. One is not entirely about gender, but an interplay between xenophobic policy legacies, exclusionary tactics, and the everlasting barriers for women and people of color in politics.
So, why are first-generation Americans, and specifically first-generation women, underrepresented in the federal government?
RepresentWomen’s latest report answers that question.
In the past, a first-generation politician was a rich, white man who mainly immigrated to the United States during their youth. They had little difficulty assimilating, getting elected and being accepted by society. This first-generation politician’s experience of the past is drastically different from what the immigrant experience embodies today. While it is clear that the four waves of immigration expanded and diversified the U.S. population, foreign-born political representation has suffered due to exclusionary legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Immigration Act of 1924. These xenophobic and racist legislative legacies still impact immigrant policymaking today.
Barriers to participation and representation exist everywhere, of course, but according to this post by Georgia Aspinall in Grazia, there are a number of countries where it’s still very difficult for women to vote:
We live in a patriarchal society, that much we know. In the UK, our symptoms of that include the two women per week being killed by partners, conviction rates for rape amounting to a haunting 2% and Black women being five times more likely to die during childbirth than white women. Then there’s the objectification of women, unrealistic beauty standards, the gender pay gap, maternity discrimination and glass ceiling. All of this, of course, made more difficult if you’re an ethnic minority, LGBTQ+ or disabled.
But for us, the patriarchy often exists under a veil of hidden, socialised behaviours that impacts us dearly but at least as a society, is known as ‘bad’ – one would hope. In other parts of the world though, the patriarchy is often celebrated.
It’s in these countries where women face obstacles against the most basic human rights, from a lack of education to minimal political agency. Women are disproportionately impoverished globally, and while in the UK there are still archaic opinions about the women’s place being as the child-rearer and home-maker, in other parts of the world this is considered fact. Whether it’s due to religion, tradition or a lack of education, it all amounts to women being subservient.
It’s important to understand just how prevalent this is, especially at times like this, where we’re celebrating just how far women have come in the UK. We might be benefiting from what former generations fought for, but there is still a fight to be had. Just take a look at these countries where it’s still really difficult for women to vote (and work and live) …
Women in Russia make up just 16 percent of the lower house of parliament and there are few policies in place to protect women from domestic violence—but Daria Litvinova reports in The Washington Post that a leading feminist, Alyona Popova, is running for a seat to advance women’s rights in the upcoming elections:
Alyona Popova’s campaign rhetoric is blunt: Unless she is elected to parliament, there won’t be much hope for a law against domestic violence in Russia.
One of the country’s most ardent feminists, Popova has fought for years to lobby members of the State Duma to adopt legislation to protect women — without success. So she decided to run herself in the election in which voting begins Friday and runs through Sunday.
Popova believes she has a good chance of winning and will be able to push through a domestic violence law. Analysts and recent actions by Russian authorities, however, suggest that both face an uphill battle.
Few reliable official statistics are kept on violence against women in Russia, but it is clearly a national problem. Police routinely turn a blind eye to domestic abuse, and restraining orders don’t exist, leaving victims without a key protection.
The Interior Ministry’s official magazine, Russia’s Police, reported in 2019 that one in three murders occur within “family and domestic relations”; violent acts of different kinds happen in one out of four families; and 70% of crimes within families and households are against women and children.
There are virtually no legal mechanisms to protect people from domestic abuse. Laws address a wide range of violent crimes, but attempts to create measures that would prevent these crimes from happening have faced resistance from authorities.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure in office is coming to an end and she is likely to be replaced by a man in the upcoming German elections. According to according to this piece in Reuters, Merkel’s 16 years in power have been impactful, even if she considers herself to be a reluctant feminist:
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has become a feminist icon after 16 years in power even though the world’s most powerful woman has only belatedly accepted that label as she prepares to step down, and conceded that gender equality is still a long way off.
“She is admired by women all over the world, this is her main legacy. That a woman showed what she is capable of and does this with dignity and resolve,” German feminist activist Alice Schwarzer told Reuters.
A rare woman in the upper echelons of her conservative, male-dominated Christian Democrats (CDU), Merkel, 67, long avoided casting herself as a feminist and has only reluctantly supported some policies pushed by feminists such as quotas for women in boardrooms.
“She hasn’t spent the last 16 years carrying out great feminist deeds. To be fair she had quite a few other things on her plate,” Schwarzer said, noting Merkel had supported policies that helped women like expanding state-funded childcare.
“The very fact of her existence is a feminist statement.”
In 2017, Merkel avoided saying whether she considered herself a feminist when urged to do so at an event with then International Monetary Fund (IMF) director Christine Lagarde and Ivanka Trump, daughter of then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
I was very glad to see this piece in The Hill by Sally J. Kenney about the dearth of women in judicial offices in the United States because I think it’s a topic that demands more attention. The team at RepresentWomen has done some preliminary research on the representation of women in the judicial branch and the best practices to get more women into those seats including a look at whether women are more likely to be appointed or elected to office—more research is needed. Professor Sally Kenney writes:
With a slim majority in the Senate, President Biden has moved swiftly to fill judicial vacancies since taking office, continuing President Obama’s determination to seek out qualified women, particularly women of color. Just this week, Biden announced a new slate of judicial nominees that again include historic firsts when it comes to the representation of women on the federal bench.
As part of his efforts to diversify the federal courts, Biden should next turn his attention to the Federal Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the most male-dominated court of appeals in U.S. history. Thankfully, vacancies are soon expected.
Fourteen years ago, I joined a group of four women in Minnesota that came together to draw attention to the fact that only one woman — Judge Diana Murphy — had ever served on the Eighth Circuit, and to foment change. We named our endeavor The Infinity Project since the infinity symbol was the number eight on its side. Judge Murphy suggested we had named it that because it would take until infinity to realize a diverse and representative Eighth Circuit.
After years of painstaking organizing in each of the seven states that make up the Eighth Circuit: Iowa, Minnesota, Arkansas, Missouri, North and South Dakota, and Nebraska, in 2013 President Obama appointed a public defender from Iowa, Jane Kelly, to the court. Her nomination even received the bipartisan support of GOP Sen. Charles Grassley.
But this small victory did not last long. Although he replaced Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a woman—albeit a very different one in Amy Coney Barrett—President Trump was a return to gender inequality for our courts. Like every Republican President before him once President Carter began appointing women to the federal bench in more than token numbers, Trump appointed only half as many women as his Democratic predecessor. In fact, he appointed four men to the Eighth Circuit.
Out of 62 judges ever serving on the Eighth Circuit, only two have been women — Judge Murphy and Judge Kelly — making it the least gender diverse of all of the circuits by far. With only one sitting judge out of 18 (6 percent), the current representation of women is not even close to the next lowest circuit, the First Circuit, at 20 percent. The most representative circuit, the Eleventh, has 9 women of 21 total judges, or 43 percent. President Biden can and must begin to change that.
Ellen Malcolm, whom I got to know in 1990 (!) while working on a congressional campaign in Washington State, founded the organization in 1985 and since then it has played a major role in advancing women’s representation and leadership in the United States. EMILY’s List is a prime example of focused intentional action to increase women’s representation that will be even more effective once we address the multitude of structural barriers that women face in politics.
A central barrier is the winner take all voting system that protects incumbents and limits competition for House seats making it very unlikely that challengers will win. RepresentWomen prioritizes reforms to the electoral system that create more competition and more open seats that women have a greater chance of winning.
Errin Haines writes about EMILY’s List new president in The 19th this week:
EMILY’s List, the powerhouse political pipeline for Democratic women candidates who support abortion rights, has tapped Laphonza Butler as its first Black president in a move that reflects the growing influence of Black women in politics.
Butler, a veteran organizer, union leader and Democratic strategist, is also the first mother to lead the group in its 36 years of existence, during which it has helped the number of women in political office grow. She was previously a senior adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris during her 2020 presidential campaign.
Butler takes the helm of EMILY’s List at a time when Black women’s political clout has expanded at the local, state and federal level and as abortion access has an uncertain future in many states, with a new ban in Texas and a case from Mississippi pending before the Supreme Court.
The organization faces a challenge in the 2022 midterms, a time when the president’s party tends to lose seats, as Democrats go into the election with fragile majorities in Congress. It also plans to work to get local leaders elected amid major battles over issues including abortion access and voting rights that are dominating Republican-led state legislatures.
An advisory council for the proposed Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum was announced last month and includes luminaries Lynda Carter and Billie Jean King according to this article in The Art Newspaper:
The Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents today announced the appointment of an advisory council that will assist in planning for a new Smithsonian American Women’s History Museum in Washington, DC. So far 20 of its 25 members have been named, among them well-known figures like the tennis champion Billie Jean King, the actor and singer Lynda Carter, former US secretary of commerce Penny Pritzker and the onetime A+E Networks chairman Abbe Raven.
Congress approved the creation of the women’s history museum and a National Museum of the American Latino under the Smithsonian umbrella last December after decades-long campaigns by supporters.
The advisory council will advise the governing Board of Regents on such crucial decisions as selecting a location for the women’s history museum–a site evaluation by an architecture and engineering firm is underway–and raising crucial funds. Under the legislation establishing each museum, half of the money is to be provided by Congress and half by private sources, raising the prospect that the advisory council will have to help secure hundreds of millions of dollars in donations in the coming years. It will also provide for the maintenance of a collection that has yet to be created.
“As someone who helped bring a museum to life on the National Mall, I know firsthand how indispensable an advisory board is,” says Lonnie Bunch, the secretary of the Smithsonian, who oversaw the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2016 as founding director. “We have been fortunate to enlist an extraordinary group to help envision, create and guide this new museum, enabling the Smithsonian to expand the breadth and vividness of the American story by illuminating the essential contributions women have made to our nation.”
A 2016 report by a congressional commission that studied the feasibility of creating the museum concluded that women were vastly underrepresented in US exhibition narratives, memorials and history textbooks and that a new institution could help rectify the imbalance and attract a broad following. “Only half the nation’s story is being told,” the report said.