“Tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.” – Hillary Clinton
Regardless of where you stand politically, you have to agree that history was made when the Associated Press called the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton, making her the first woman nominated for president by a major party. Clinton’s nomination marks a high point of a slow process of women’s inclusion in U.S. government. Sixteen women served in Congress in 1974. There were 65 in 2000, and 104 hold office there today. When you add to that growing numbers of female representation in local and state governments, it’s safe to say that, albeit slowly, women are making their voices heard on the political stage.
We also may be well on our way to equal representation, given the advances we have made in the last three decades alone. Research from around the world suggests that when a woman takes office, it inspires other women to run for office. The global nature of the U.S. presidency means that this nomination, and most certainly the election of a woman, could increase political participation by women across the United States and around the world.
The Long Road to Representation
There was a time in our history that the very thought of a woman holding any type of elected governmental office would have been preposterous. Women had no formal role in revolutionary America because they were not full citizens. In fact, women in 1700s America were represented in public affairs by their husbands or fathers. However, like women today, they exercised their economic power, and were sowing the seeds of the women helping women movement, slowly building self-esteem and gaining self-confidence.
Politically aware, Colonial women were limited on the political stage and supported their chosen parties by showing up, cooking for events, wearing colors and symbols of the party, and marrying men of the same party. It was not wise to stray too far from accepted norms or party lines, because the women who stepped outside these boundaries were depicted as whores, distorted men or victims.
Backlash Limits Women’s Self-Confidence
As women’s self esteem and confidence grew, they slowly claimed more power into the early 1800s. However, a backlash rendered them invisible for nearly 100 years, until they won the vote in 1920. At that point, progress in politics was slow, limited to an occasional woman ambassador or legislator. And that slow growth reflected public sentiment. In January of 1937, a Gallup Poll posed this question: “Would you vote for a woman for president if she was qualified in every other respect?” A whopping 64 percent of Americans said no, 33 percent said yes, and 3 percent had no opinion on the matter. In 1940, the question was asked again, this time by People’s Research Center. Respondents were even less inclined to vote for a woman — 73 percent said no.
Empowered Women Gaining Ground
In the 1960s, the tide began to turn, and by the early eighties we had the first woman justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and the first woman to run for Vice-President on a major party ticket. Women were first elected in numbers to the U.S. Senate in the 1990s, 70 years after American women voted in their first elections. The millennium brought the first woman Speaker of the House and in 2008 the first woman won a presidential primary. And most importantly, when Gallup asked again in 2007 if respondents would vote for a woman, 88 percent of Americans said YES.
Electing Women Makes Sense
A new study from Quorum shows that women in Congress are working hard (and together) to make real progress. In addition to other impressive statistics, the report finds that women in the Senate are more active than their male counterparts, with individual women senators introducing 96.31 bills on average to the men’s 70.72 bills. They’re also more successful—2.31 bills created by female senators were enacted over the last seven years compared to only 1.57 bills from male senators.
Further studies show that women in Congress co-sponsor more bills with each other than do the men, and are more likely to cross the aisle. Women are adept at creating conditions of mutuality, equality, and trust—all of which are necessary in governmental roles. That approach also allows people to feel comfortable enough to share ideas and take risks. The strides we make when we join forces have a powerful ripple effect.
What we’re seeing in government is a microcosm of what’s happening with women across the country –– and around the world. Today the women empowerment movement and the march towards parity is moving increasing numbers of women into positions of power. The recent White House United State of Women Summit in Washington DC is the most recent example of women joining together to address crucial issues. No individual woman is as creative, skilled, or powerful as we are together. By joining hands we are gaining the confidence we need to take our fair and equal share of leadership positions across all sectors.
A lot has changed in 10,000 Generations, check out my other pieces here:
That’s Mine! Women, Marriage and Property
I Can Do Anything! Women and Empowerment
Education is Women Empowerment
It’s Only Fair! Women’s Equal Status
Anything You Can Do; I Can Do! Women at Work
How Can I Help? Women and Philanthropy