“The Representative Assembly, should be an exact Portrait, in Miniature, of the People at large.” These were the words of President John Adams, one of the architects of our American political system. Contemporary leaders would do well to remember this directive.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has not yet announced her retirement, but that hasn’t stopped fellow Democrats from vying for her seat. After building a massive war chest over the past few years, Rep. Adam Schiff has announced his candidacy. But just because he can run doesn’t mean he should.
Feinstein was elected to her Senate seat in 1992, representing California alongside Sen. Barbara Boxer (D). When Boxer did not run for reelection in 2016, her retirement made way for Kamala Harris to serve as senator—until being sworn in as the United States’s first female vice president in 2021. This is an example of what happens when women hold the door open for other women.
However, when Harris became vice president, Governor Gavin Newsom (D) appointed a man to serve out the remainder of her term, passing over a field of well-qualified women. Despite the inroads that have been made over the last century, the number of Black women currently serving in the Senate stands at zero.
Should Feinstein step down in 2024, a woman should take her place. We call on Representative Schiff and any other men who might consider running for the seat to step aside and support women candidates instead.
In the 118th Congress, only 25 percent of senators are women, and only 3 percent are women of color, despite the U.S. population being over 50 percent female. When there is such a large discrepancy between the gender balance of America and the gender balance of our elected leaders, we cannot claim to have a truly representative democracy. In light of recent decisions that will impact women’s lives, it is essential that we build a democracy where women are fully represented.
Other countries have established gender quotas and replacement mandates … In the absence of such rules, it falls to men to know when to sit down, and to set personal ambition aside for the sake of strengthening our democracy.
The U.S. trails behind our democratic allies when it comes to gender balance in government, coming in 70th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s most recent data on women’s parliamentary representation. Other countries have established gender quotas and replacement mandates to advance gender balance in government. In the absence of such rules, it falls to men to know when to sit down, and to set personal ambition aside for the sake of strengthening our democracy.
As Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand.” This is our demand. Let us advance women’s representation in our Senate and our government at large, and not slide backwards. Gender parity is a fight that is far from won, and achieving it in our lifetimes will require more than incremental progress. Indeed, the fight for true democracy—a democracy in which every voice is heard, and where the faces of our leaders reflect the faces of our nation—will require courageous and decisive action.
Step aside, Congressman Schiff, and let the women lead.
U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.