Monday, February 25, 2013

Let's Stop Celebrating the 'Record' Number of Women in Congress

Here is my latest on HuffPo Politics. 
As we watch and wait for news about the sequester, I have seen an increase number of stories about how the sequester will affect women. Some of these news items mention the record number of women in Congress as if these two developments will cancel each other out. The thinking goes, I believe, that the sequester could disproportionately affect "women's issues" but that the "historic" number of women in the halls of Congress could work to prevent that from happening.
I am eagerly awaiting the day I do not read stories these stories. Both about women's issues and about the record number of women in Congress. This is not because I think there are too many female political representatives, quite the opposite.
In January the 113th Congress was sworn in. Amidst the predictions and prognostications for this Congressional session, came a number of stories about the historic number of women now in Congress. Specifically there are now 101 women in both chambers. This number includes three nonvoting members. There are 535 people in Congress total. Simple math tells us that less than 19 percent of our representatives are women. Women account for slightly more than 50 percent of the population of the United States.
By any stretch of the imagination women are still woefully underrepresented in the halls of Congress (not to mention board rooms and executive offices). Yes, given recent history women are "making progress," however, it is difficult to take too much solace in this lopsided number.
I am frankly deeply saddened that we must find cause for celebration when fewer than one in five representatives, but approximately one out of two members of the population, are women.
I am not someone who advocates voting for (or hiring or promoting) any individual solely because of their gender. Our nation faces real and serious issues; we need the best representatives advocating for their constituents, not the second or third best. 

What we need is a society in which we can vote for the best candidates and in which our representatives are actually (at least roughly) representative of the American population. There are many systemic reasons why they are not more and better female candidates, and I do not endeavor to outline them here.

My point is that we are quite far from that place in which roughly equal gender representation is accepted as the norm. This may be why I sometimes cringe when I hear about "women's issues" or how a particular issues (such as the sequester) affect women. Its time to start talking about how issues affect people, period.
Women's issues are conventionally used to mean issues related to healthcare (including issues related to abortion and childcare), education, and workplace issues such as fair hiring and pay equity. These are "people issues" not women's issues. Certainly laws related to abortions more directly affect women, but it speaks volumes about our society that basic issues related to educating children, and pay in the workplace are still considered to be mainly the province of women. A paradigmatic shift is in order.
So please forgive me if I fail to scream my excitement about the record number of women in Congress from the proverbial rooftops. The day there is nothing to write on this topic because it is expected that fifty percent of the population will account for roughly fifty percent of our representatives, and that "women's issues" simply become "issues," is the day I will celebrate.

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