USA, Politics, Inequality

After the midterms, can we dub 2018 the new “Year of the woman”?

I feel hopeful that women are taking strides and won't be slowing down.

We’re a month out from November 6th and I still feel warm and giddy from all the gains made by women this past midterm election. Anyone else? We might have not gotten all the wins we wanted but considering the number of women who ran for office this year, it’s completely worth throwing our fists in the air.

One hundred and twenty-four women have been elected. That’s 102 women elected to the House, 13 to the Senate, and nine will serve as governor. The amount of women in politics has been growing at a steady rate, but this year’s election, we made a huge jump, to say the least.

I promise you it’s not fake news, it’s real! Here’s a quick run-down of some of the big wins that women made this midterm election.

Kansas Democrat Sharice Davids and New Mexico Democrat Deb Haaland will become the first Native American women elected to Congress. Davids is also the first openly LGBTQ+ member of Congress for Kansas.

Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib and Democrat Ilhan Omar of Minnesota will become the first Muslim women elected to Congress. In addition, Omar will also be the first Somali-American member. She came to the U.S. as a refugee when she was eight years old.

Democrats Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will be the first Latinas from Texas to represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Kyrsten Sinema from Arizona is the first elected Democrat to the Senate since 1988. She is also the first female senator elected in the state and the first openly bisexual senator in the country.

Democrat Ayanna Pressley is the first African-American woman elected to the House from Massachusetts.

Ok, so this is pretty cool but one could ask where is it coming from, and why now?

One place of comparison we can look at is the 1992 “Year of the woman elections. NPR reporter Danielle Kurtzleben stated how, “democratic women, in particular, were galvanized that year after watching a panel made up entirely of white men grill Anita Hill over her sexual harassment allegations against the then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. As a result of that election, the number of women in Congress climbed by two-thirds.” 

Now in 2018, watching that same demographic grill Christine Blasey Ford, could have ignited a similar fire in women today.

[bctt tweet=”Now in 2018, watching that same panel grill Christine Blasey Ford, could have ignited a similar fire in women today.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Unfortunately, that climb in 1992 resulted in a decline the following years before becoming stagnant.

So if this is really the new “Year of the woman,” how do we continue this engagement in a way that women in 1992 could not?

One step is acknowledging how women are more likely to step up to the plate if an opportunity presents itself. In conversation with Kurtzleben, Democrat Lauren Underwood states how she decided to run after a conversation with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  “At the end of that conversation, [they said], ‘we’re looking for someone to run in the 14th. Is there any chance you’d be remotely interested?’ That opened the door for me.”

Kurtzleben follows up by saying, “[the] fact that she only really started thinking seriously about running after she was asked makes her a lot like many other women candidates.”

Another example is Republican State Senator Elaine Bowers from Kansas. She shares with the New York Times how she was originally asked to run by a retired male senator. “Women running for office isn’t always their idea,” she said. “I think that’s a shame. I said, ‘Am I qualified to do this?’ And I was more than qualified to do it. How do we change that perception?”

We could change this perception by looking at the impact women have in politics.

In a 2011 study, researchers found that women elected to office performed better than their male counterparts.

“Congresswomen secure roughly nine percent more spending from federal discretionary programs than congressmen,” the study says. “Women also sponsor and cosponsor significantly more bills than their male colleagues.”

While it’s easier said than done, these are still strong places to start! Seeing women step up, makes me feel empowered and hopeful. Is that naive of me? Maybe. But it could also be a reflection on how strong representation can really be. 

Deborah Walsh, director of Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, said she feels hopeful about this year. “It feels like this moment is different — that there is potential for this to be more than a one-off,” she told NPR. “The momentum and the energy behind these women running feels like it has the potential to last — you know, to have some legs.”

So let’s ask ourselves, how did it feel to fill in the box for a woman candidate or see a more familiar face represent your values and goals? How does this motivate YOU as a womxn?

Let’s make this moment different than the one in 1992. Let’s create space for sustainable engagement and give it some legs. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, watch us run—for office!