Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Female Candidates Are Often Discussed Using Gendered Terms; Rest in Power, Anita Cornwell

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!

As Pride Month continues, RepresentWomen celebrates by exploring the intersection of gender and identity in politics and society. This week’s Weekend Reading covers tragic losses, new research, and wins for women. These stories remind us of how we’ve progressed regarding gender equality and our room for improvement.

Rest in Power: Anita Cornwell, Black Feminist and Queer Activist

Black Lesbian in White America by Anita Cornwell.

This past Monday, Anita Cornwell, a revolutionary Black lesbian feminist writer, died at 99. She was the first Black woman to identify as a lesbian in print publicly. In 1983, she published the groundbreaking essay collection Black Lesbian in White America. Cornwell will be remembered for her radical openers on her identity as an unmarried lesbian. She spurred conversation on gender and sexuality because of it. Her work has been crucial to advancing the racial and queer liberation movements. You can view her books here.

Ms. Cornwell was the first Black woman writer to publicly identify as a lesbian in print, Jones said, contributing to The Ladder, a lesbian publication, and Negro Digest in the 1950s and later publishing her groundbreaking essay collection, Black Lesbian in White America, in 1983. In those days, when people could be fired for the suspicion they were gay, choosing to write about her lesbian identity as an unmarried, Black, working-class woman, was nothing short of radical.

“We tend to underestimate how brave and daring and audacious it was to be out unapologetically as a lesbian in the 1970s, in the 1980s,” said Julie R. Enszer, editor of Sinister Wisdom, a lesbian literary and arts journal that is republishing Ms. Cornwell’s work. “To put your face on the cover of a book that says ‘lesbian’ was extraordinarily courageous and meaningful to so many people.”

Ms. Cornwell died May 27, at Wesley Enhanced Living Center at Stapeley in Germantown, “surrounded by the compassionate women who cared for her,” Jones said.

Broken Records Don’t Always Equal Broken Barriers

A simple way to evaluate women’s representation in politics is to look at the composition of each state’s congressional delegation. (2022 Gender Parity Index / RepresentWomen)

The representation of women has increased significantly over the last several decades—including breakout wins in NYC in 2021—but progress toward gender balance is frustratingly slow and uneven, as our 2022 Gender Parity Index illustrates: Most states get a D for women in office.

The 19th’s article on AAPI women’s representation in the judiciary serves as a powerful reminder of the continued under-representation of women in key offices.

To date, 29 total women have been nominated and confirmed to sit on Article III courts. In his first two years, President Joe Biden appointed 12 Asian-American women, two more than the 10 appointed by President Barack Obama in eight years and more than double the number appointed during President Donald Trump’s four years in office…

Historically Asian-American women have faced a variety of challenges that can affect their advancement in the legal profession and ability to receive a federal judicial appointment. These challenges can come from cultural and gender expectations as well as institutional barriers, said Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, who is the first Asian-American woman senator and currently sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee…

“I think it has to do with both our own aggressiveness in pursuing the jobs and people’s expectations,” Hirono told The 19th. “Growing up I was really curious to be vocal or aggressive … so I encourage AAPI women to use their voices more in whatever place they are at.”

“We need to get a lot more people in the pipeline everywhere at our law firms, and the judiciary, and once you decide, and so it becomes intentional,” Hirono said. “Diversity doesn’t happen because it sounds like a good thing or a good idea. You have to be intentional about it.”

Disability Victory Has Launched

Our terrific ally Sarah Blahovec and her team recently launched Disability Victory, a first-of-its-kind organization dedicated to building the political power of disabled progressives! Disability Victory will provide essential training and leadership development, as highlighted in their announcement:

Co-founded by Neal Carter, a disabled political strategist and owner of Nu View Consulting, and Sarah Blahovec, a disabled civic engagement expert, Disability Victory will build a talent pipeline of disabled leaders while addressing the systemic and intersectional challenges disabled people face in politics.

Disabled people are underrepresented at all levels of government. Over 60 million Americans have a physical, mental, or health-related disability, yet disabled leaders hold just 10 percent of elected positions. Disability Victory will elect to effect policy change and improve conditions for disabled people, their communities, and all Americans…

“Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley always says the people closest to the pain should be the closest to the power,” said Sarah Blahovec. “Neal and I saw first-hand that disabled people want to impact their communities but haven’t had an adequate support system until now. We need more representation at every level of office, and Disability Victory is ready to empower and multiply our power.”

Mexico State Gets its First Woman Governor

(Delfina Gómez A. / Twitter)

On Monday, Delfina Gómez won her gubernatorial election in the state of Mexico to become the first woman to hold this position in the state. NBC News reported on this historic moment:

Morena, the party formed by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, seized power for the first time in 94 years from Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in the state of Mexico, the most populous of the country’s 32 states.

Morena candidate Delfina Gómez became the first woman elected governor of the state when she defeated Alejandra del Moral. Her victory ratified the dominance of the party formed by AMLO, as López Obrador is known, which already has wins in 23 other Mexican states.

“One hundred years of corruption have been long, but times change and the people united and won. The end of those 100 years of darkness and mistreatment has come, a new story begins in the state of Mexico,” Gómez said in a speech Sunday night.

New Research Analyzes Gendered Media Framing on Male and Female Candidates 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) departs from the House Chamber following a vote to oust her from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Feb. 2, 2023. The chamber approved the resolution in a party-line 218-211-1 vote. Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) voted present. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Female candidates are often discussed using gendered terms, according to an article from PsyPost features new research published in Political Research Quarterly. The study discusses the impact of implicit gender framing on male and female political candidates. This can reinforce stereotypes and contribute to the belief that women are less qualified for political positions. Media portrayal is yet another barrier women face while running for office. Implicit biases in the media can discourage women from running for office. 

Learn more about barriers and solutions to running for office on our website.

Their findings revealed that women receive more coverage related to their political experience and professional qualifications (or lack thereof) than men in mixed-gender races. However, female candidates received more coverage on “feminine” qualifications, such as family and children, compared to male candidates, indicating the use of explicit gender frames.

All-female races received the highest probability of coverage on feminine qualifications relative to other race types, suggesting that explicit gender frames were more prevalent in races featuring two women candidates. In all-male races, men receive more coverage of their political experience than women do in all-female races.

The authors found that implicit gender frames are more prevalent than explicit gender frames in news coverage of candidate qualifications. Implicit gender frames are used more frequently when discussing female candidates than male candidates. For example, female candidates are more likely to be described as “emotional” or “compassionate,” while male candidates are more likely to be described as “strong” or “confident.”

Denver Fails to Elect its First Woman Mayor

Denver mayoral candidate Kelly Brough lost her bid to become the city’s first woman mayor this week to former Colorado state senator Mike Johnston. The two-round system in which multiple women competed in the first round, which may have split the women’s vote, is another reminder of the need for ranked-choice voting for all municipal elections.

Kelly Brough and Cynthia Richie Terrell.

It has been a smokey week in Washington, D.C.—and across large swaths of North America—due to the devastating wildfires in Canada, but the flowers in my garden are in full bloom, and the berry harvest has begun—a powerful reminder of the challenges and beauty that surround us.

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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.