If you happen to mention the name Hillary Clinton to my grandmother, she’ll pause, lock her jaw and declare, “That woman…ambitious.” That’s all she has to say about Clinton because, after all, Granny’s polite. Also, the first female Speaker of the House’s name is akin to a curse word – something you say when you stub your toe. “Ah! #*&% Pelosi!”
But if you think Grandma is a Sarah Palin fan, think again. Once, I asked her about Palin – she faked a hearing-aid malfunction.
Even so, think of where women were when my grandmother was born:
Montana holds the honor of electing the first woman, Jeannette Rankin, to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1917, a full three years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Rankin is also noted for being the only member of Congress to vote against the U.S. entering WWII (pacifism being a “woman’s issue”). Interestingly, Montana also holds the honor of electing only one (think: first AND last) woman to Congress.
Yes, in almost a hundred years Montana has elected just one female to represent them in Washington D.C.
But if you think that record is shoddy – Iowa and Mississippi have never (think: ever) elected a woman as Governor or to the U.S. Congress. Mississippi you can understand. Tell Mississippians (like my grandmother) they’re 50 years behind the times, and they’ll get mad at you for calling them progressive.
But Iowa is a more civically mindful place. America’s presidential candidates are vetted in the Iowa Caucuses. If the candidates don’t make sense, they don’t get past Iowa. Iowa is like our nation’s liver – cleaning out all the toxins (e.g., Tom Tancredo) – before they get on the ballot. Yet locally, Iowans have never once elected a female candidate to represent them at a state or national level. Currently, Assistant Attorney General for Iowa Roxanne Conlin is running against incumbent Senator Chuck Grassley. She is 25 points behind in most polls.
Presently, 51% of the population is female, yet only 17% of Congress is female. If the old white men – the majority of the Tea Party – want “their country” back, look no further than the Halls of Congress: It’s 87% white and 83% male. If Congress got together and misspelled some Nazi-laden Mao-heavy picket signs, it would look exactly like every other conservative rally since Obama took office. You know, those folks claiming not to have a voice in government.
Even in the wake of “Mama Grizzlies,” a phrase coined to describe a female Republican candidate with a Sarah Palin level of competence, USA Todayreports the number of women serving in the U.S. Congress could go down for the first time in 30 years. Women have been more likely to vote Democratic, even though feminist author Gloria Feldt (No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think about Power) states, “The Democrats have been remiss in recruiting women for office.” Still, a majority of female Representatives in Congress have a “D” next to their names. And it’s going to be a bad year for Democrats. So as Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle running against Harry Reid would put it, Congress is about to “man up.”
Here’s the thing about women candidates: they are more interesting to the press than their male counterparts. The media just likes them more. There’s an obsession with female candidates’ gaffes. The idea that someone denounces the Supreme Court as “activists judges” yet is unable to name one decision with which they disagree – like Christine O’Donnell and Sarah Palin before her – is noteworthy. “That woman…ambitious.” The year 1992 was dubbed “The Year of the Woman” because four women were elected to the Senate as opposed to the over 30 men who were elected or re-elected to the same body.
Yes, female candidates may get all the ink – but male candidates get all the votes.
And now with Mama Grizzlies roaming about – women voters know that these female candidates sucking up all the oxygen don’t even support traditional women’s issues like reproductive freedoms, child welfare laws and social security. So – ironically – if you’re for women’s issues, you just might have to be against women candidates. Which is getting one step up and a hundred years back.