Tuesday’s Primaries Won’t Change Gender Leadership Imbalance


I think I speak for many women in this country when I say I am sick and tired of national conversations about our bodies, our families and our pay that don’t include us. And if we’re to judge the prospects of equal representation by this past Tuesday’s primaries, there appears to be little hope for a momentum shift come November.

I must own that I was even more depressed by this painful statistic than I expected. According to a May 8th report from NPR’s “All Things Considered,” The United States ranks pathetically low on the list of nations that elect the most female representatives. Writer Michele Kelemen on the show’s accompanying blog writes:

“The U.S. is listed as No. 84, with female legislators accounting for 18 percent of the House and 20 percent of the Senate. But the list does not recognize ties among countries, so there are actually 98 countries with a higher percentage of female legislators than the U.S.”

99th place in this type of ranking. It’s appalling. And no subsequent wonder at all that the state of the female union is a patriarchal, authoritarian nightmare, especially if you live in a red state. Vaginal ultrasounds anyone?

I am equally sorry to report that the near future isn’t looking much more enlightened. The New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote a piece this week entitled, “Dinner Party Politics.” In it, she takes a reflective look back at Tuesday’s electoral primaries, mostly with a tongue-in-cheek nod to the victory of “moderate” Republicans (evermore an oxymoron) over Tea Party fringe elements. But she also observes:

“On the gubernatorial side, however, things were a little dimmer. Representative Allyson Schwartz lost the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania, which she was once favored to win…Also, [Debbie Walsh of the Center for American Women and Politics] pointed out, Pennsylvania will now be ‘another state with no women in their congressional delegation.’

Pennsylvania, I’m sorry. This looks terrible. Get your act together.”

Pennsylvania is a purple state, but does that even matter? Women are 51 percent of the population. We own up to 60 percent of the presently awarded college degrees. We multi-task, enjoy challenging careers and are leaders – everywhere but the boardroom and Washington D.C. Coincidence? I think not. But why do we stand (or sit) for this?

And this is why primaries and midterm elections matter. This is why all elections matter, particularly for female voters. I am sincerely weary of a sea of gray white faces and scientific hacks making the decisions for my gender. The numbers tell the story. We are the majority.

Earlier this week, the Oregon-based Statesman Journal ran a piece called “Voter turnout down in primary election across parties.” Writer Hannah Hoffman dryly observes, “The voter turnout in Tuesday’s primary election does not sound impressive: 35.5 percent. However, it is better than turnout in any other state that has held a primary election so far this year.”

Do we need to do the math? If we show up to the polls in strong numbers, we will carry our point – no matter the sex of our chosen candidate. Though the GOP has failed to learn anything at all from the experience, female voters are a huge reason that President Obama is experiencing a second term. Initially I typed “enjoying” but realized the absurdity of the verb.

There are so many ways in which we are lagging behind the rest of the world: education, health care, energy technology, public safety (thank you NRA!). And I’d argue that many of these deficiencies go hand-in-hand with the fact that we finish 99th behind a country called San Marino, while repressive Cuba finishes third, on the list of countries with the highest percentage of female legislators.

No more determination without representation. Women, we know what we must do this November: vote.

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