Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Remembering bell hooks; Keechant Sewell Is First Woman to Lead NYPD

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!


bell hooks, painted by Melanie Humble.

For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?   

—bell hooks

Celebrated and beloved feminist author bell hooks died this week, sparking an outpouring of appreciation for her life and work that influenced so many of us. This obituary from the LA Times offers a window into her childhood:

Born Sept. 25, 1952, and raised in Hopkinsville, Ky., hooks was the fourth of seven siblings born to Veodis and Rosa Bell Watkins. Her love of reading began as a child, and she learned to read and write at an early age. Her sisters, who shared an upstairs bedroom with her, said she would always keep the light on well into the night and would often hear the sounds of her writing or turning a page before appealing to their mother to get her to stop.

“There were many summer days that Gloria led the walk to the public library to checkout books,” her family’s statement said. “While Valeria and Gwenda would find one or two Nancy Drew or other fun books, Gloria always had at least ten books of a more serious nature (Shakespeare, ‘Little Women,’ and other classics). With her intense love for information, her ability to speed read was perfected.

“We will always remember Gloria as having a great thirst for knowledge which she incorporated into her life’s work.”


On March 15, 1955, Claudette Colvin, age 15, was arrested in Montgomery, Ala., for refusing to give up her seat to a white woman on a bus. This week she was exonerated for her actions which helped to launch the successful bus boycotts that were integral to the civil rights movement. This story in NBC News explains her motivation that fateful day:

“My reason for doing it is because I get a chance to tell my grandchildren, my great grandchildren what life was like in segregated America … The hardship and intimidation that took place in those years and the reason I took a stand to defy the segregated law,” she said.

In an affidavit attached to the petition to clear her records, Colvin revealed why she refused to move on that fateful day.

“History had me glued to the seat,” she said in the affidavit. “Sitting there, it felt to me as though Harriet Tubman’s hand was on one shoulder pushing me down and Sojourner Truth’s hand was on the other.”

Colvin revealed that she took that city bus by chance that day because school was let out early. She normally took a special bus designated only for Black children, according to the affidavit.


NYC mayor-elect Eric Adams has named Keechant Sewell to lead the N.Y.P.D. The first woman to hold this position, according to this article in The New York Times, her appointment is yet another example of the power that executives have to advance women’s leadership:

A person close to Mr. Adams said he had been impressed by Chief Sewell’s confidence and competence, and her experience working undercover. Her interview process was rigorous and included a mock news conference about the shooting of an unarmed Black man by a white police officer, the person said.

In 23 years with the Nassau Police Department, Chief Sewell, who grew up in Queens, worked in the narcotics and major cases units, and as a hostage negotiator. She was promoted to chief of detectives in September 2020.

Chief Sewell has been viewed as a rising star in policing circles, said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, which advises departments on best practices.

“This is a case of someone identifying her early on in her career and moving her up,” he said. “This is someone who has experienced every part of the department from patrol to internal affairs.”


NY AG Letitia James, painted by Melanie Humble.

The news that New York Attorney General Tish James decided to withdraw from the race for governor provides a reminder that traditional winner-take-all primaries can discourage candidates from running for fear of splitting the vote of like-minded constituencies. In contrast, the NYC elections held with ranked-choice voting in 2021 enabled multiple women candidates to run without any fear of splitting the vote:

“Tish would have won the majority of trade union endorsements, I’m convinced of that,” said John Samuelsen, the international president of the Transport Workers Union, which had endorsed Ms. James. “But with Tish out of the way, the path for Kathy Hochul to win is much clearer.”

Ms. James also faced significant competition for her New York City base: Jumaane D. Williams, the New York City public advocate and another Brooklynite, threatened to cut into parts of the coalition she was hoping to build, and Mr. de Blasio could have siphoned off some of the Brooklyn-rooted voters she had been counting on. Brooklyn represents the single largest voting bloc in most Democratic statewide primaries.

Many prominent left-wing leaders believed the progressive left would choose between Ms. James and Mr. Williams; her exit from the race may help Mr. Williams shore up new endorsements.


Ida Schmertz (l) and Ruth B. Mandel. (Center for American Women and Politics)

Congratulations to our friends at the Center for American Women and Politics who are celebrating 50 years of unparalleled research on the status of women’s representation in the United States:

When the Center for American Women and Politics was created 50 years ago, its founders were told it wasn’t a subject worth studying; there were only a handful of women serving in office, so what was there to research?

These critics aren’t just wrong in retrospect. They were wrong at the time. In this interactive timeline, which includes both developments at CAWP and in American politics broadly, travel through the past five decades as barrier after barrier is torn down, and watch CAWP grow into the premier institution in the country devoted to women’s political engagement while intersecting with and mutually supporting American women as they seized their own political destiny.


Founder of the Wyoming Women’s Action Network, Jen Simon, had a terrific piece in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle about the merits of returning to multi-seat districts and adopting ranked-choice voting to elect more women to office in the state:

The Equality State today ranks among the worst states for electing women. Only 18% of state lawmakers – just 16 out of 90 – are women, compared with 31% nationally (that’s 74 men, for those keeping count). Yet, Wyoming was not only the first state to recognize women’s inherent right to vote and hold office, but we were also the national leader for women in elected roles.

Between 1978 and 1992, Wyoming led the way in electing women to office.

But in the 1992 redistricting process, our state did away with multi-member districts. This move likely contributed to the steep three-decades-long decline in female legislators and the lack of equal representation in our state Legislature…

Research shows that women are elected more often in multi-member districts than in single-member districts. Multi-member districts are simply electoral districts that send more than one representative to office. They’re also called multi-winner districts – meaning there is more than one winner – and they confer a lot of benefits for voters.


Olaf Scholz, the incoming chancellor, second from left, with members of his new cabinet in Berlin. (Instagram)

Incoming German Chancellor Olaf Scholz named a gender-balanced Cabinet—according to this article in The New York Times—which is yet another example of the power of executives to advance women’s leadership. In 2022 RepresentWomen will be calling on candidates for governor to commit to appointing gender-balanced Cabinets if elected:

For the first time in 16 years, Germany will be run by a man. But although Angela Merkel is handing over the chancellery to a male successor, the incoming cabinet will have more women than ever before. Half, to be exact.

Olaf Scholz, the incoming chancellor, kept his election promise to appoint as many women as men to his government — and not only that, women will run all the briefs related to security and diplomacy.

Germany will have its first female foreign minister and its first female interior minister. It will also get its third female defense minister in a row.

“Security will lie in the hands of strong women in this government,” Mr. Scholz said on Monday. “Women and men account for half the population each, so women should also get half the power,” he added. “I’m very proud that we have succeeded in realizing this.”


RepresentWomen released a new report this week on women’s representation in Arab countries—the second in our series that examines the barriers women face in politics and the best practices in use to address those obstacles:

RepresentWomen’s Arab State Brief reviews the extent to which women are represented in Arab countries, the history of Arab independence and revolutions – and their impact on women’s rights and representation; and country-specific information that covers the history of systems reforms and their impact on women’s political rights and representation in the region. 


There was a great piece in the Financial Times about Kathryn Murdoch and her commitment to addressing the systemic problems in the American electoral system with strategies that include ranked-choice voting:

Murdoch has become increasingly consumed by the challenge of reforming US politics.

“Even if you put all of philanthropy in America together,” she says, “it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the government spends, right? And so if [the government] isn’t functioning, you really just don’t have the ability to make real change” on issues such as climate. 

By Gallup’s latest count, 44 percent of Americans consider themselves independents. Yet most elections at most levels of government begin with primary contests in which only registered Republicans or Democrats can vote. 

Murdoch’s investigation into how to change that was unusually methodical, say activists in what was an underfunded field when she started exploring it three years ago.

“In retrospect, it strikes me as quite extraordinary that she and one staffer went around to talk to each of these tiny democracy groups,” says Nick Troiano of Unite America, an “aggressively non-partisan” political reform group to which Murdoch has given more than $6m. Most donors begin such meetings with their own answers and intuitions, he says. “Kathryn very much began with questions.”  ….

“We are trying to make the world liveable for us and our children,” she says. “That isn’t a right or a left cause; that’s a human cause.”


Don’t forget to check out this week’s suggested reading from the team at RepresentWomen:


Celebrating the holiday season with great board book selections for my new great niece and small packages filled with sweets for family and friends around the country.

Warm wishes for a safe & happy weekend,
Cynthia

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About

Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.