The recent election saw some gains for women. Among the highlights, Virginia women ran for and won legislative seats in record numbers. In New Jersey, of 120 legislative seats, 36 will be filled by women. Philadelphia voters elected the first female controller. And Pennsylvania’s judicial branch saw gains, with women winning all six open appellate court slots.
This is progress, but we’re still not quite ready to call this “the year of the woman.”
Analysts and media outlets have tried to trot out that label not just leading up to this November, but frequently since 1992, when women ran and won in record numbers — victories sparked in part by the Senate treatment of professor Anita Hill during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
This year, while the electoral gains were important, they represent only a tiny counterweight to both the gloomy history of women holding office and what must be considered a particularly horrendous year for those with two X chromosomes.
It is a year when a president took office elected over a female candidate despite his stated predilection for grabbing women by the genitals.
In some ways, it’s year that feels a lot more like 1972 than 1992.
- Women represent just 19 percent of Congress, and 24 percent of statewide executive positions.
- In Pennsylvania, women hold just 18 percent of seats in the General Assembly.
- Despite gains in the judicial branch, women still represent only about 25 percent of judges.
This means not only that the interests of women stay secondary or even tertiary, but that lawmaking and judicial bodies lack a diversity of viewpoints, expertise and complexity.
Aside from points of light in this election season, a few recent wins are simply delicious. In New Jersey, the freeholder who publicly wondered if women attending the post-inauguration march on Washington would be home in time to cook dinner lost his seat to … a woman.
In Pennsylvania, women’s strong showing in judicial elections was particularly satisfying after two Supreme Court justices left the court after a pornography-sharing scandal.
According to Debbie Walsh, who studies such trends as head of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, these gains feel like a solid trend. Walsh sees more interest from women in all levels of offices. There is, she says, a deepening of the understanding that “elections have consequences, and you can’t sit this one out.”
Back in the early ’90s, the harsh treatment of Hill and the fact that, at least initially, people did not put much stock in her claims prompted women to challenge the status quo.
What’s different this time, at least among the many charges of sexual harassment, is that women are speaking out … and being believed.
That can be galvanizing in a different way. As more and more women say, “No more,” there’s a chance that in 2018, more and more will say, “I’m running.”