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On Importance, Power, and Politics

On April  16, the Center for American Women and Politics welcomed Melody Barnes - former assistant to President Obama and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council – as this year’s Senator Wynona Lipman Chair in Women’s Political Leadership. Barnes spoke on Policies that Empower: The Journey from Vulnerability to Engagement, detailing the policy agenda that she deems essential to moving our country forward – particularly among the most vulnerable and most growing populations of Americans. barnes2In addition, Barnes paid tribute to the Chair’s namesake – Senator Wynona Lipman – by detailing both her accomplishments and her legacy. While Senator Wynona Lipman became the first African American woman elected to the New Jersey State Senate in 1971, her legacy is not simply as a “first;” she is best remembered as an advocate, activist, and champion for those whose voices could easily be left unheard in the halls of power. In her remarks, Barnes referred to a quote from Senator Lipman that shaped the remainder of her speech. Senator Lipman frequently told young people, “If you want to create change, don’t just get to know important people, become important people.” This message resonates amidst recent discussions about “leaning in” not only to make a difference in your own life, but also to affect the lives of others. Women in politics have begun to heed this message. Women play an essential role in electing our political leaders; they vote at higher rates and in higher numbers than their male counterparts, and women’s votes have decided the outcomes of recent elections. While this could be viewed as women supporting other important people, women voters have proven that they, in fact, are some of the most important people in electoral politics today. But women’s political participation should not stop at casting ballots. To take Senator Lipman’s words truly to heart, women should fight for their rightful places at decision-making tables throughout our nation, whether on councils, boards, or in our state and federal legislatures. Senator Lipman knew that advocacy and activism are essential to make change, but being in positions of power to heed the calls of advocates in creating policies or statutes is essential. And, as Barnes noted, Senator Lipman emphasized follow-up to ensure that once on the books, laws were enforced effectively. Melody Barnes shared her journey to becoming an important person who was able to sit at some of the highest decision-making tables in the land – advising President Obama and shaping his domestic policy agenda. She has followed Senator Lipman’s advice and has made tangible change – from helping to craft and pass the Affordable Care Act to enacting education reforms from early childhood to higher education. But what Barnes reiterated in her remarks were the ways in which we all are, or can become, important people by harnessing the power we already hold (and of which we are often unaware) to make change in the areas we choose. Politics is an opportune site for harnessing that power, and it’s one where women must engage to create the lasting change they seek.

CAWP On the Road: Re-envisioning Public Leadership

"Our dream is a generation of young people who expect and believe that leadership should be diverse in every way." – Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), Rutgers University This week, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) was proud to join the White House and the U.S. Department of Education in co-sponsoring the Conference on Girls’ Leadership and Civic Education at the White House. The Conference was intended to move the ball forward on President Obama’s pledge to promote political and economic equality for all women through the Equal Futures Partnership. To do so, the conference co-hosts brought together scholars, public officials, leaders of youth-serving organizations, media experts, business leaders, educators, young leaders, and others to address questions and concerns related to civic engagement, gender, and public leadership. The conference posed the following questions:
  • How do we teach our young people about public leadership and the role of government in a way that engages boys and girls equally?
  • How can we ensure that our civic education efforts inspire both boys and girls to envision themselves as future governmental leaders?
  • How do we inform all our young people about the roles women play as leaders in government, from City Hall to the White House?
904353_560918890614979_1991535836_o Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

photo2 Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)

These questions are broad and have no simple answers, but the dialogue begun by two expert panels, five productive breakout sessions, and insights from two female members of the U.S. Senate (Collins and Heitkamp) was incredibly valuable to informing action that organizations, media, educators, and others can take to better reach the goal laid out at the start of this post. Conference panelists and speakers focused on the importance of early intervention to introduce young girls and boys to images and ideas of public leadership that are both accessible and diverse. They emphasized the need to combat countervailing pressures, particularly for girls, that divert them away from leadership and/or cause them to question their ability, intelligence, or willingness to stand apart from the crowd. Many participants cited the need for and utility of role models and mentors who  allow girls to both imagine themselves as public officials and, in some cases, provide them the tools and the advice to find political or policy success. From including more female leaders in classroom 921212_560918807281654_1846322512_omaterials (or even posters!) and media images to connecting young people directly with female leaders in their communities, adults from all sectors (educators, parents, media, politicians, organization leaders) can, as Ruth Mandel (Director, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University) said on Monday, “contribute to making the idea of woman political leaders seem natural, even inevitable.” Dr. Jill Biden kicked off the conference by sharing a story about her own daughter, who was lucky enough to see women’s political leadership first-hand at a very early age when her father (then-Senator Joe Biden) took her to the U.S. House of Representatives to advocate for an issue she cared so deeply about – dolphin safety. Lobbying then-Representative Barbara Boxer (CA), Biden’s daughter not only met a powerful woman whom she could emulate, but – according to Dr. Biden, “She saw that she could effect change.” 922125_560919180614950_1284175309_oCAWP has spent more than three decades dedicated to harnessing public leadership in women and girls, from our work with the Public Leadership Education Network to our NEW LeadershipTM program for college women (now in 24 states). We are especially proud to be launching a new initiative, Teach a Girl to LeadTM (TAG), which will be a national education and awareness campaign to re-envision what public leaders look like. TAG will draw upon the experts and organizations who participated in the White House conference, many of whom are already project allies, to meet its goals of better integrating gender into civic engagement and education, and public leadership into efforts aimed at girls’ empowerment. Our staff left Washington, DC with new wisdom, new relationships, and renewed energy to inspire and engage a new generation of women leaders. We look forward to your ideas, support, and enthusiasm to make our dream a reality. To learn more, visit our website and check out photos from the conference.

Girls Want to Change the World...Their Way

A new report from political scientists Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox finds a gender gap in political ambition among young people, ages 18-25. More specifically, Lawless and Fox report that multiple factors in men and women’s socialization – parental encouragement, political exposure/engagement, participation in sports, and perceptions of personal qualifications – make it more likely that young men see a political future for themselves than do young women, particularly in elected office. Simplifying their argument in the report’s title, Lawless and Fox write that “girls just wanna not run.” policy reports_girls not run coverBut beyond the catchy title, the findings presented in their report are more nuanced and more important. The report suggests that young women see alternative avenues to making political and policy change, and running for office is not a path on which they can envision themselves. Girls want to change the world, but they have yet to see running for electoral office as the means to that end. Lawless and Fox find that young men and women share equitable rates of activism. However, while young men’s activism may more often lead to a political campaign, their findings show that women view charity work (over running for office) as the best route toward social change. Though the authors cite this as evidence that young women are less politically ambitious than young men, it may better demonstrate that women’s ambition simply differs from men’s in both what they seek to accomplish, and how. The fact that young women expect to make a difference from outside of formal government is not terribly surprising in light of both the current paralysis in Congress and state legislatures and women’s historical exclusion from formal institutions of governance. Forced to take another path toward social change, women have fought countless battles toward equality and justice from outside of our legislative halls – and won. And, if women feel under attack by those who are making laws, it is hard for them to envision seeking  positions alongside them. It’s also hard to knowingly seek entry into institutions where you are so obviously apart from the norm. Women make up less than one quarter of the nation’s legislators – whether at the state or congressional level, only five states have female governors, and no woman has ever sat in the oval office. The absence of women in both men and women’s perceptions of public leaders is further exacerbated by the dearth of women leaders highlighted in history books, portrayed on television or in film, and/or introduced to young people far before and throughout adolescence. Simply put, women are less likely to see themselves in the public leaders to which they are most exposed well before hitting age 18. And, as Marian Wright Edelman rightly states, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” In order to encourage women to see public leadership, and specifically elected office, as an effective means toward making the social change they seek, we must provide them with more inclusive images of political leaders. Lawless and Fox prescribe this in their report, calling on organizations on college campuses to “[expose] young women to female candidates and elected officials and [provide] examples of how pursuing electoral office can bring about social change.” We are proud to do this work through CAWP’s NEW LeadershipTM program, a leadership training program that demystifies politics for college women and connects them with female political leaders and mentors. However, this exposure – and challenge to masculine images of public leadership - must also begin much earlier. Our most recent initiative, Teach a Girl to LeadTM, will take on this challenge directly by providing the tools and resources to parents, teachers, and educators to integrate women leaders into the lessons they teach, stories they share, and images they provide to children at all ages. Introducing young people to political information at any age may catalyze political engagement and ambition as they grow up, but exposure is ineffective in encouraging women’s political involvement if that information only reinforces the message that politics and government is a “man’s world.” Instead, providing both girls and boys with more inclusive images of public leadership from an early age has the potential to alter – and expand - their ideas of both who can lead and how public leadership can be an effective path toward social change. This re-vision will go a long way to ensuring that when girls think about how they want to change the world, they see elective office as a way to do it.

Gaining Momentum? Taking stock on International Women’s Day

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.” Global organizers provide this overview for the celebration’s focus: Over time and distance, the equal rights of women have progressed. We celebrate the achievements of women while remaining vigilant and tenacious for further sustainable change. There is global momentum for championing women's equality. iwd_squareWhen it comes to women’s equitable political representation, the United States needs greater momentum to catch up to most of the world. Today, the United States ranks 77th in the world for women’s parliamentary representation. Accounting for ties, 91 countries actually top the U.S. in the proportion of women in national legislative posts. And, the pace of change in women’s congressional representation in the U.S. over the past decade has been slower than the increases in women’s global parliamentary presence. Some argue that advancing gender equality at all levels will pave the way to women’s leadership at the highest echelons of power, including head of state. But, of course, the momentum for change can come from the top down: many hope that female heads of state will both champion and inspire women’s equality. Most likely, the possibilities for advancement move in both directions. Seventeen women serve as heads of state in 2013. Sixty-nine women (from 46 countries) have acted as their country’s presidents or prime ministers, and almost half of those women took office in the past decade. Unfortunately, we cannot count the United States among them. While it is too simplistic to assume female heads of state will  fix gender inequity in their respective countries, one need only watch Australian Prime Minister Gillard’s recent floor speech on sexism and misogyny to see the benefit of a woman’s voice taken seriously in governmental debates – not only on policy issues, but on institutional norms and processes. As we celebrate the “global momentum for championing women’s equality” today, we should consider how to encourage greater momentum toward women’s political equality at home and abroad. For the United States, that means rejecting complacency about our unimpressive rankings for women’s political leadership and looking to our friends throughout the globe for inspiration on how (and why) to increase women’s political representation at all levels of government. For CAWP's ideas on how to celebrate International Women's Day, click here.  

Spotlight: Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee Celebrates 25 Years

The Center for American Women and Politics is proud to work with colleagues and partners throughout the country to advance women in politics and leadership. This week, footnotes is proud to host a guest blog post from Susan Rose, a former county supervisor (Santa Barbara, CA) and faculty member of CAWP's 2012 Project. In this post, Susan highlights the important work done by the Santa Barbara Women's Political Committee as it celebrates its 25th anniversary. Thank you to Susan and to the SBWPC for your work on behalf of women! Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee: 25th Anniversary Susan Rose

Susan-Rose-BIG-version
The Honorable Susan Rose
 

 

The 2012 election resulted in some formidable firsts for women.  Although the percentage of women in the U.S. Congress still remains low (18%), they broke several glass ceilings.  Tammy Baldwin became the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate; Tammy Duckworth the first disabled veteran in Congress; Tulsi Gabbard the first Hindu in Congress; and Mazie Hirono the first Asian-American woman in the Senate. However, there is still much unfinished business for the feminist agenda and an imperative need to secure the gains that have been made.  To do that, more women must run for national office.  How can women candidates get started in politics?  Is there a pipeline and if not can one be created? In the late 1980’s, a small group of women gathered in Santa Barbara, California and asked the question: can women have a significant impact by acting locally?  Reflecting on 25 years of political activism, the answer is an unqualified yes.  The following narrative describes how these feminists created a pipeline using an activist model. The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee (SBWPC) was established in January of 1988, with a raucous reception in a popular watering hole that brought out 250 women and men.  Betty Friedan was the keynote speaker that evening and anti-choice opponents picketed the event.  The time was right to organize! sbwpc-logoFrom the beginning, the SBWPC defined itself as a feminist organization.  Their mission states: “The Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee is dedicated to furthering gender equality and other feminist values through political and social action, and educational activities.  As a political action committee, we endorse the candidacies of women and men who actively support our goals and promote a feminist agenda.” During these 25 years, the SBWPC has pursued gender equity through many avenues but with the specific focus of creating social change through public policy.  The theory that female elected officials would do more to make a difference in the lives of women has since been documented by academic institutes like the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.  Additional research from Stanford has demonstrated that female legislators perform better than their male counterparts once in office. To attain gender equity, the SBWPC aimed to achieve representational balance by electing feminist women to public office.  Over these years, the organization has supported many women for school boards, city councils, boards of supervisors, the state legislature, California statewide offices, congress and the presidency. During the 1990’s, more women began to run for office in Santa Barbara.  Since 1999, the county has been represented by a woman in congress.  Women have comprised as much as 80% of the County Board of Supervisors, served as mayors, District Attorney, and in both houses of the state legislature. They also hold many positions on school boards and local commissions. Since 1988, the SBWPC had endorsed 95 candidates.  A total of fifty-six of those were women (59%).  Only four of the women lost. All candidates endorsed the feminist agenda. The success of the organization is best demonstrated by the impact these women have had on public policy and governance.  Issues and legislation introduced by women elected to office in Santa Barbara have covered a broad range of topics:

  • Congresswoman Lois Capps has been committed to women and families by supporting legislation on health care, the environment and education including the Affordable Health Care Act;
  • State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has emphasized domestic violence and reproductive rights.  Jackson’s legislation has assisted victims of abuse and created access to affordable reproductive care.
  • District Attorney Joyce Dudley has worked to expand rape laws, eliminate rape kit backlogs and increase timely testing of all kits.
  • The late County Supervisor Naomi Schwartz chaired both the local First Five Children’s Commission and the California Coastal Commission making children and the environment her hallmark issues.
  • County Supervisor Janet Wolf has focused on health care and gender balance in public appointments.  Wolf has worked to expand breast cancer digital mammography services for under-served women.
  • As Mayor of the City of Santa Barbara, Helene Schneider has established a focus on fair pay, housing, homelessness, human services and education.

In its early days, the SBWPC founding board of directors created a set of tools that enabled them to ensure the election of feminist women to office.  They include:

  • Position papers;
  • Recruitment of women candidates;
  • Campaign skills workshops;
  • Candidate assessment teams;
  • Endorsements;
  • State and federal PAC money; and
  • Media strategies.

These tools are still in place today and guide the board in their decision-making. The question of supporting male candidates arose in the early years.  On the occasions when they did not have women candidates, the SBWPC endorsed men who, in turn, supported their agenda.  As a result of this policy, today the endorsement of the SBWPC is highly sought after by all candidates in Santa Barbara. Many of the first candidates to be endorsed by the PAC were founding board members.  As they left the board to run for office, others took their place.  The board itself became a source for candidates, creating an early pipeline.  Some went on to join public boards and commissions and others became staff members to the newly elected women.  As part of their current organizational structure, the SBWPC has a standing pipeline committee that focuses on recruiting women for future elections. In Santa Barbara County, women have achieved political and electoral success by grass roots organizing, marching, mentoring, advocating and campaigning.  As a result of these efforts, the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee has created a culture where women in public office are the norm not the exception. The organizational model developed by the SBWPC has been tried and tested over the years. It can be replicated in other communities.  It has worked on a local level, why not nationally? If you or your organization would like to submit a guest blog post to footnotes, please email Kelly Dittmar at kdittmar@rci.rutgers.edu.

From the Bus to the Ballot: African American Women’s Electoral History

Rosa Parks – a civil rights icon and activist – was born a century ago today. At age 42, her refusal to abide by segregationist rules on a Montgomery, Alabama bus became a national symbol of civil rights resistance. However, as biographer Jeanne Theoharis writes, Parks’ “lifelong history of activism and anger at American injustice” began far before and continued long after she refused to give up her seat to a white man. The activism that Parks embodied has been woven through African American women’s history and political participation in the United States, but it was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that African American women could translate that activism into holding electoral office. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman, elected to Congress in 1968, leading the way for the 29 African American women who have since followed her footsteps to the United States Capitol. Among these women, only one has served in the United States Senate (Carol Moseley Braun, 1993-1999). Still, the percentage of African American women among all African American members today – 32% - is larger than the percentage of women (18%) in the U.S. Congress. Today, 13 African American women (all Democrats) serve as U.S. representatives, and two Black women are delegates from the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. Two hundred and forty African American women currently serve in state legislatures, representing about 13.5% of all women state legislators. Representative Crystal Dreda Bird Fauset (D-PA) became the first African American woman elected to a state legislature 75 years ago. In 2008, then-Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-CA) became the first woman of color, and first African American woman, Speaker of an Assembly or State House in the country. Two years later, she was elected to Congress; that same year, Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver (D-NJ) became the second African American woman chosen to lead a state’s lower chamber. Dr. Wendy Smooth’s research has shown that the growth in African American women’s electoral representation has outpaced that of African American men since the 1990s, but Smooth writes that African American women’s (formal) political empowerment has yielded “mixed results”:

On the one hand, [African American women] are gaining increased access to political offices, now outpacing African American men in winning elections. On the other hand, they continue to face considerable obstacles to securing high-profile offices at both the state and national level.[1]

Only nine African American women have served in statewide elected executive posts – all since 1993 – and no African American woman has ever been elected governor. Two African American women have run in major party primaries for the United States presidency. Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman to run for president of the United States in 1972, receiving a symbolic, but unsuccessful, 151 delegate votes. It was not until more than three decades later that Carol Moseley Braun threw her hat in the ring, but she dropped out of the race before the first votes were cast. Before her death in 2005, Shirley Chisholm reflected on the many electoral barriers she broke and the legacy she would leave:

I want history to remember me not just as the first black woman to be elected to Congress, not as the first black woman to have made a bid for the presidency of the United States, but as a black woman who lived in the 20th century and dared to be herself.

In this African American history month – and every day of the year - we honor the daring women who follow in Chisholm’s footsteps, and we should all encourage more women to do the same. Chisholm_Legacy

 
[1] Smooth, Wendy. 2010. “African American Women and Electoral Politics.” In Gender and Elections: Shaping the Future of American Politics, eds. Susan J. Carroll and Richard L. Fox. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 165-186.

Will women hold the “high seats” in Obama’s second term?

This morning, Secretary of State Clinton introduced and endorsed Senator John Kerry as the next Secretary of State in front of the Senate panel who will vote on his confirmation. If confirmed (as expected), Kerry will be the first white male to hold the post in 16 years. While few have questioned Kerry’s credentials for the job, there has been concern about whether Kerry’s appointment – along with those of Chuck Hagel (Defense) and Jack Lew (Treasury), and paired with resignations of three cabinet-level women  (including two women of color) and three cabinet-level men of color-- represents a trend toward a less diverse cabinet in President Obama’s second term. It is still too soon to say that Obama’s second term cabinet will be less racially and gender diverse than his first. By my count, Obama has seven cabinet-level appointments left to make, based on vacancies and resignations: Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Energy, Secretary of the Interior, Secretary of Labor, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, United States Trade Representative, and Chief of Staff. Of the 16 other cabinet or cabinet-level posts, four women will keep their positions: Secretaries Sebelius (HHS) and Napolitano (Homeland Security), Ambassador Rice (UN), and Administrator Mills (SBA) are expected to stay on for the start of Obama’s second term.

Obama Cabinet_First Term Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy (July 26, 2012)

 

While the President may still have opportunities to increase the diversity of his team, the rumored short lists and limited openings for these offices make it unlikely that Obama’s second term cabinet will top the eight women (35%) serving simultaneously during his first term. If so, he could buck the positive trend of the two previous presidents, who actually increased the percentage of women in their cabinets during their second terms. However, it is important to note that President Obama did appoint two women, including one Latina, to the Supreme Court, and included three women among the top six members of his White House staff (two Deputy Chiefs of Staff – one of whom is leaving next week - and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett). In 2010, Dr. Mary Anne Borelli wrote that, by 2009, “The inclusion of women in the cabinet had become the norm.” As more women have been appointed to cabinet and cabinet-level posts, the questions have shifted from whether or not a woman will be selected to how many women will serve, for what posts they will be chosen, and to what extent their voices will be heard in the most significant White House policy discussions. While the State Department has, in the past two decades, become a common home for female leaders, other influential departments – Defense and Treasury - have yet to see women at the helm.  Amidst international conflicts and economic challenges, these cabinet posts are particularly important in guiding United States policy and ensuring national stability and strength. Gender scholarship argues that having diverse voices in those discussions is essential, both to representing unique constituencies and to bringing new perspectives, approaches, and styles to the decision-making process. More specifically, research on female appointees at the state and national levels has shown that women are not only more responsive to women’s policy concerns, but also more likely to bring more women to the decision-making table via their hiring decisions. In yesterday’s congressional hearings on the Benghazi tragedy, many House and Senate members remarked on Secretary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department, and most applauded her staunch dedication to women’s rights and women’s security as a large part of her legacy there. Her accomplishments follow those of other female appointees like Secretary Madeleine Albright, who identified women’s rights as a priority of American foreign policy, Commerce Secretary Juanita Kreps, who encouraged President Carter’s creation of an Interagency Task Force on Women Business Owners, and – of course – Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, who not only broke the glass ceiling for women in presidential cabinets, but also pioneered U.S. policy to protect the most vulnerable workers (especially women and children) and promote their economic security for generations to come through the Social Security Act. Perkins once reflected on her appointment by President Roosevelt in this way:

The door might not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time and I had a kind of duty to other women to walk in and sit down on the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in the high seats.

As we enter President Obama’s second term, we will pay close attention to not only the number of women in the “high seats” within the administration, but also to the power and influence those seats are given in the four years to come. See CAWP's Infographic and Fact Sheet on Women and Presidential Appointments for more details.

Madam President?

Inaugural National Mall
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
 

 

Today, we watch as Barack Obama is sworn into his second term as President of the United States. Four years ago, Obama made history as the first African American to win a major party nomination for the presidency and, ultimately, take the oath of office. But President Obama wasn’t the only candidate to make history in 2008. Hillary Clinton won more votes (18,000) and more delegates (1010) than any unsuccessful presidential primary candidate in history. She made history as only the second woman to have her name formally placed into nomination for president at the Democratic National Convention, and left the campaign amidst speculation that she would run again in 2012 or 2016. That speculation has hardly died down and, despite Clinton’s own claims that her candidacy is unlikely, the most recent polls show Clinton as the most popular contender for the 2016 contest. As we celebrate the history being made today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the women who have blazed a path toward the White House and the potential for a woman to take the oath of office in years to come. Two women became candidates for the presidency in the nineteenth century before they could even cast ballots themselves. Victoria Woodhull in 1872 and Belva Lockwood in 1884 were both nominated as presidential candidates by a group of reformers identifying themselves as the Equal Rights Party. As the first woman to practice law in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Lockwood knew what it felt like to stand alone and did so again in her second presidential bid in 1888. It wasn’t until 1964, 76 years after Lockwood’s second bid, that Republican Senator Margaret Chase Smith from Maine became the first female candidate to have her name placed in nomination for president at a major party convention, winning twenty-seven delegate votes from three states. Eight years later, in 1972, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York, the first African American woman elected to Congress, became the first woman and the first African American to have her name placed in nomination for the presidency at a Democratic National Convention, winning 151.95 delegate votes.

Women PresCandidates

Between 1987 and 2003, three women – Democrat Pat Schroeder (1987), Republican Elizabeth Dole (1999), and Democrat Carol Moseley Braun (2003) - put their names forward as presidential contenders, but all stepped off the trail before the first primary votes were cast. In 2012, Republican Michele Bachmann left the campaign trail 24 hours after placing sixth in the first Republican primary. In 2007, Ruth B. Mandel described the legacy of the women who ran for presidency in this way:

They made a claim on public awareness by attaching voices and living images of accomplished woman leaders to the idea that one day a woman could conceivably be president. Their actions made the idea less outrageous to conceive.

In 2008, Hillary Clinton echoed this sentiment as she conceded the Democratic primary, telling the crowd,

You can be so proud, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States. And that is truly remarkable.

Speculation has already begun about who will run, and who can win, the presidency in 2016. Some women, most notably Hillary Clinton, are among the names being floated as serious contenders. Still, the presidency remains arguably the most masculine office in the land – presenting obstacles well-understood by the women who have run. As she fought to allow women to argue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court over a century ago, Belva Lockwood said, “The glory of each generation is to make its own precedents.” While women have (slowly) worked to establish a precedent of women running for major party presidential nominations, our generation has yet to set a precedent of a female commander-in-chief. So as we celebrate the political history made today, let us consider the political history women have left to make.  

What role will women play in the legislative debate over gun control?

Earlier this week, a colleague was speaking to a community group about women in the 2012 elections and CAWP’s work to increase women’s political representation. The first question she was asked, in light of the tragedy that struck Newtown, Connecticut just days earlier, was what role women in office would play in the ensuing legislative debate over gun control. Where do the current female members of Congress stand on gun issues? And does the increased number of women in office make it more (or less) likely that anti-gun measures will pass? There are no concrete answers to these questions, as “gun control” encompasses myriad types of reforms and the women in congress do not represent a unified bloc on this or any issue.  But looking to history might be helpful to formulating hypotheses about what role women might play if gun control is, in fact, put on the legislative agenda. In 1994, Congress passed a ten-year assault weapons ban (AWB) under a title of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (HR 3355) by a vote of 235 to 195. At the time, there were 54 women in Congress – just 10% representation. Despite these numbers, women played a prominent role in the 1994 ban. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) was the architect and chief sponsor of the AWB and worked tirelessly to get enough votes to attach it to the Senate version of the crime bill. In the House, women were disproportionately represented among the members whipping the vote to be sure that the bill included the ban. House Vote HR 3355

When it came to a vote, 83% of the women in the House, and all but one woman in the Senate, voted in favor of the assault weapons ban; men were more evenly split, with 50% of men in the House and 59% of men in the Senate voting for the ban. Partisanship plays an important role in votes on this issue, but women in both parties were more likely to vote for the ban than were their maleSenate Vote HR3355 counterparts (see charts). Much has changed since 1994. Women have nearly doubled their representation in Congress – when the 113th Congress begins on January 3rd, women will take 18% (or 98) of the House and Senate seats. With that increase comes greater regional, racial, and ideological diversity among the women who serve. Probably most different is the increased conservatism among the Republican women who now serve, which may make it harder than it was 18 years ago to find bipartisan support for new restrictions on gun ownership. Because there have been so few gun control votes in recent years, one of the only indicators we have of potential support for such legislation is  National Rifle Association (NRA) ratings. Based on grades given to members of the 113th Congress, women represent a disproportionate percentage of the House (34%) and Senate (37%) members labeled as anti-gun by the NRA. However, the NRA grades all 20 Republican women in the House and 3 of 4 female Republican senators as strongly pro-gun; one female House Democrat and one Democratic woman in the Senate are also given “A” grades by the gun lobby. The context (post-Newtown) and content (e.g. only targeting assault weapons) of any pending legislative debate matters and may yield votes that do not mirror these particular ratings, but only time will tell. What we do know for now is that Senator Feinstein has vowed to re-introduce an updated assault weapons ban when the congressional session opens in January and, if history is any guide, will fight furiously to garner support in both chambers. Some pro-gun members have already said they would be open to restrictions on military-grade weapons, and House Democrat Carolyn McCarthy (NY), a long-time anti-gun advocate, has vowed she will give “full force” to reform efforts and will “embarrass” President Obama if he does not stay true to his promise of policy change. It’s no surprise that these two women will be leading the charge to respond to recent gun tragedies. Both women know intimately the horrors of gun violence and have used personal tragedies to fuel policy priorities. Moreover, they represent constituencies beyond their geographic borders, speaking on behalf of women in the electorate who – based on yesterday’s Pew Poll - are significantly more likely than men to prioritize gun control over gun rights. It will take both men and women at all levels to change our nation’s policies around guns, and having more women in Congress does not guarantee movement in either direction – holding firm on rights or putting more restrictions in place. But, women – as politicians, advocates, and citizens - will be essential players in this national debate.

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