Saturday, January 31, 2009


A few nights ago I saw a story on the evening news about the upcoming elections in Iraq. Though I opposed this costly and violent war from the start, there was something quite bracing about the courage of those running for office. Specifically, that there are so many women seeking to be representatives in the highest legislative body. A recently enacted law in Iraq requires that at least 25 percent of each party in office must be made up of women.

So, how do we compare in our time-honored democracy, as compared with the fledgling one in Iraq? The U.S. House of Representatives has 435 members. As of last year’s elections, there are 74 women serving (17%). There are currently 17 women in the senate (also 17%), an all-time high, so at least that’s good news. So in total, of the 535 senators and congresspeople, 17% are women. Not such good news.

Fascinating facts:

  • Hillary’ Clinton’s run for president in 2008 was considered a really big deal, often described as “historic.” However, 59 women from 45 countries have served as presidents, prime ministers, or chancellors around the globe. Currently, there are 14 countries led by women. Not a huge number, granted, but one not often acknowledged by American media.

  • Jeanette Rankin of Montana was the first woman to serve in the House of Representatives, elected in 1917. Montana and a few other states gave women the right to vote before passage of the amendment that gave all women the right to vote in 1920.

  • Hattie Caraway of Tennessee was the first woman elected to the U.S Senate (another had been appointed, and served very briefly, before her) in 1922.

  • Margaret Chase Smith of Maine served in both the House and the Senate (1949-1973) and was the first woman of a major party to run in the presidential primary (Republican) in 1964.

  • Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to run for president (Equal Rights Party) in 1873. Though considered a fringe candidate, and spent election night jailed, she brought a great deal of attention to the cause.

Whenever women do anything significant in American politics, the media somehow leads us to believe that new ground is being broken, ignoring both history and the rest of the world. Getting back to Iraq, even though their law requires that 25% of their legislative body is female, it isn’t clear whether that will actually come to pass; we’ll find out in the next few days. Still, it's humbling that in Iraq, where repression and discrimination are so prevalent, the aspiration to increase female representation is such a publicly stated goal.


HD said...

and don't forget...Frederick Douglass was Victoria Woodhull's running mate!!!!

Anonymous said...

This post is as fascinating as it is disturbing. We think we've come "a long way baby," but it's far more realistic to quote your blog in that we've come "a long way, maybe."
Another fact to add to your amazing list is that the last state to ratify the right for women to vote (I won't mention the name so as not to upset it's citizens who carry the XX chromosome) did so in 1984!!!!!

Diana Black said...

Thank you, Nava, for addressing one of my most passionate issues.

And doing it so effectively.

Diana Black

Fluffy Bunny Slippers said...

I have a perhaps different perspective. If we, as women, want to see our gender more equally represented in public office, why are we not running for those positions?

Could it be perhaps that most of us women have the common sense to see that public office is something that drains you and pulls you from your family and friends more than we would like?

If I had the desire, I could go to law school and climb the political ladder to eventually possibly look at President.

But I don't really want to. I see the hell that these candidates and winners go through and that's not something I want for my life.

Could it be that the real reason there are not more women in political office is because they find it to be too distasteful of an occupation?

I really don't care what the gender of our politicians is. I care more about their intelligence, integrity, and ability to get the job done. I think it does women more of a disservice to say we need X number of women instead of just taking the best of the best. Why promulgate the erroneous thought that women can only make it with help? We should be able to stand on our own two feet and be the best of the best, without having to be the "best of the women," as if we were dealing with a golf handicap.