Thursday, November 04, 2010

Election 2010 and Female Representation in Politics

On Numbers in the Congress

2010 was not the Year Of The Woman in American politics. The absolutely best possible outcome in the Congress would be that the percentage of women would stay at 17% overall (hi, all those countries with more women in their parliaments!). This is not the likeliest outcome. That is a drop in the percentage of women:

First and foremost, for the first time in 30 years, the number of women serving in the U.S. House of Representatives will likely decrease. A few contests remain too close to call. Democratic incumbents Melissa Bean and Gabrielle Giffords are fighting to hold onto their seats. Republican challengers Ann Buerkle and Ruth McClung are trailing by only a few thousand votes to the male incumbents they hope to unseat.

But only if women win all of these races (an unlikely scenario) will the total number of women serving in the House hold steady at 73.

The story in the U.S. Senate is similar. Depending on the outcome of Lisa Murkowski's write-in bid in Alaska, women will either continue to occupy 17 seats or they will drop to 16.
Those are not good news for the kind of feminists who believe that equal opportunity for women should ultimately be reflected in their equal presence in the corridors of power.

The reasons for this halt in the snail-slow increase of the numbers of women in Congress? It has to do with the Republican victories and the fact that the Democratic Party has more female Representatives and Senators than the Republican Party, never mind all that mama-grizzly speak. And Democrats lost seats to Republicans.

On Power In Congress

Even if the numbers of women remained the same, the power of women will decline. There are two reasons for this: First, Nancy Pelosi will no longer be the Speaker of the House. Second, women will lose leadership positions in the House which are based on seniority. Right now the Republican list for those contains no women's names.

This might be a good place to talk a little more about Nancy Pelosi. On most objective criteria she has been an excellent House Speaker: She has gotten the things done she was supposed to get done.

But if you surf the Internet you will find extreme animosity towards her person, and not only among those who disagree on her politics. My impression is that this animosity exceeds even that aimed against president Obama by those who hate him, and it's hard not to think that it is driven by sexism or misogyny.

Likewise, her skills seem to go unnoticed by even those who support her policies and her politics. I think this, too, is evidence of sexism.

Some Good News for Female Representation

Terry Sewell became the first African-American woman to be elected to Congress from Alabama. She is a Democrat. Several Republican women won state governorships:

Nikki Haley, for instance, became South Carolina's first female governor. Susana Martinez's win in the New Mexico gubernatorial race means that she will be the first Latina ever to occupy a governor's mansion.
I'm sure you can add to that list and also criticize its meaning.

What Does This All Mean?

I disagree with the idea that Americans in general voted women out on purpose. This election was a protest vote on whatever the voters interpreted as Obama's economic policies and it had little to do on women per se. At the same time, running-as-a-woman is especially hard in the two-party-ingrained-money-winner-takes-all system the U.S. has, and losing women with seniority isn't exactly helpful. That's what happened. And the anti-choice section most likely grew, too.