A Glimpse Down South | Female Progress in the U.S.

December 4, 2012

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After having several discussions with Sasha regarding politics as of late, I could not help but notice that we continuously seem to be discussing women in politics…a topic that I am very passionate about. I think it is important for all of us to stay abreast of how some amazing women are tirelessly paving the way in politics and Sasha has graciously allowed me to guest post this month to share some thoughts with you.

Less than a month ago, a political event that always captures the world’s attention took place. This was the Presidential and Vice-Presidential election in which Barack Obama was granted a second term in office, something most people really thought was cool because Obama is a global celebrity that transcends typical political engagement. So besides the 2012 American election being popcorn night to people besides junkies and nerds, some historical events took place on November 6th. While the Presidential election keeps people glued to their tv’s watching the ratings driven blue and red map that never changes (but for the 2-3 states that literally decide the election) the unsung heroes are the congressional competitors fighting for an incumbent or new spot in the US Senate or House of Representatives. This year, a record number of female Senators will serve in the country’s 113th Congress.

The number is 20, up fro 17, the last record-breaking number. Roughly 1/5, as the Senate contains 100 people. More staggering is the fact that US history has seen 39 female Senators since the inception of the body in 1789. A notable win on November 6 was the election of the first openly gay female Senator, Tammy Baldwin (D. Wis). She is also the first woman ever to represent Wisconsin in the Senate. Baldwin defeated the former holder of the seat, Republican Senator Tommy Thompson. Despite the fact that Baldwin strategically left her sexual orientation out of her campaign, this historic win (by a margin of approximately 4%) gives an LGBT representative a pivotal voice in US Congress. In addition, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, 123 openly lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates were elected to some form of elected office in the United States, including Baldwin’s Senate seat, various State Representatives and lawmakers serving in State legislators.

Tammy Baldwin celebrating her victory

A hugely significant female win was incumbent Claire McCaskill to Todd Akin, who made headlines on his foiled expertise on rape, or rather what he would call “legitimate rape”. While Akin clearly humiliated himself to an extend that even members of his own party could not relate to his damaging ideology regarding women’s choices and bodies, this win symbolized voter’s intolerance to that form of ignorance.

Claire McCaskill

Two things I took away from the US political victories that clearly symbolized progress was the absolute need for much more. Firstly, I hesitate to fully celebrate a marginal growth of women in the US Senate simply due to its historical failure to represent them. That failure may have led to the egregious ways in which politics has served to oppress women on a wide scale in the US. For example, if women were built into the landscape of US politics, reproductive rights would not be readily used as a political tool. Although not an elected political figure yet, Sandra Fluke was thrust into the spotlight in early 2012 after Rush Limbaugh labeled her as a slut and prostitute for speaking out on rights to birth control under medical insurance to Democratic members of the house. As striking as the attacks on women, their choices and their bodies seem to be in US politics today, perhaps it is not shocking considering the historical limited numbers of female voices at policy tables.

Secondly, as significant as the Senator Baldwin is, I can’t help remember the 2010 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision that upheld the state’s ban on gay marriage. While I fully appreciate the magnitude of a lesbian representing Wisconsin today in the US Senate, I can’t help thinking that it’s analogous to me getting an amazing job and being told that I am totally awesome and qualified for it, I just may or may not reserve the constitutional rights to get legally married. Countless American women are creating a political space and voice today, due to tireless advocacy, unwavering activism and determined political engagement. Progress may not be as rapid as some would like, but even a cynic like me can admit that 2012 symbolized political gains for American women – and that’s great news.


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