Victories for Female Candidates: Are We Any Closer to Equal Representation?

NPR termed it a “Super Tuesday For Women. The Washington Post called ita year of the woman,” but noted “the general election in the fall will be the real test of whether the ‘year of the woman’ label is fitting.” After high-profile primaries resulted in numerous victorious female candidates across the country, Samantha Bee of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart humorously explained, “Men broke the country and now you need the ladies to come in and make it all better.”

So what did happen in this year’s primaries? Here are some of the highest-profile wins:

Meg Whitman won the California Republican Gubernatorial primary, making her the “first female billionaire to translate her business acumen into politics” after being the former chief executive of eBay. Peter Beinart of the Daily Beast comments, “[she] opposes the right to abortion, can’t decide if global warming is real, [and] won the endorsement of Sarah Palin.” Whitman spent almost $80 million on her successful campaign, much of it her own money. Whitman will face Jerry Brown (D), a “former two-term governor hoping to win back his old job,” in the November election.

Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard chief executive, won the Republican Senate nomination in California. Fiorina commented in her victory speech on Tuesday night, “Career politicians in Washington and Sacramento be warned, because you now face your worst nightmare: two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.” Fiorina was the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company. She will face another woman, the incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer (D), in November.

Nikki Haley faces a June 22nd runoff challenge for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina, a state where no women occupy an elected position in the 46-member Senate, after receiving 49% of the vote in the Tuesday primary. She would be the first Indian-American governor of South Carolina. Like Fiorina and Whitman, Haley was also endorsed by Palin, which some think contributed to her jump to the front of the “crowded GOP field” in South Carolina.

Roxanne Conlin won the Democratic Senatorial primary in Iowa, a state that has never elected a woman to the House or Senate. Conlin took “an overwhelming percentage of the vote,” leaving her two male competitors in the dust. She will face five-term incumbent Senator Sen. Charles Grassley (R) in November.

Sharron Angle will face incumbent Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) in November, who was apparently “hoping to face off against this rather extreme candidate,” rather than the two other potential contenders that she ousted. Angle, a tea-party endorsed candidate, holds some “controversial positions,” including “abolishing the Department of Education, getting the United States out of the United Nations, and privatizing and/or phasing out Social Security.” The GOP is focusing, on the other hand, on the 13.7% unemployment rate in Nevada, which they feel incumbent Senator Reid has failed to address.

What do these victories mean for women and for the feminist movement?

The Women’s Campaign Forum wrote:

While it cannot be denied that Fiorina and Haley’s [and Haley’s and Angle’s] wins are historic, they also beg the question: Are these victories for women?

As feminism and the women’s movement were born out of the need for reproductive freedom in the form of birth control in the 1970’s, can an anti-choice woman running for office be considered a feminist just because she is a woman? The answer: No.

While, here at WCF, we applaud conservative female candidates who have risen above the misogynistic tactics thrown at them during their races, feminist victories will only come from women who support reproductive health choices.

(emphasis original)

Female representation in our federal legislature (along with numerous other governing bodies in the United States) leaves much to be desired. The Center for Women and Politics at Rutgers University reports that:

  • Women hold 73, or 16.8%, of the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
  • Of these 73, only three chair a House of Representatives committee and only 7 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Women hold 17, or 17%, of the 100 seats in the 111th U.S. Senate.
  • Of these 17, only three chair a Senate committee and only 4 hold a leadership position within their political party.
  • Of the 90 women in the U.S. House and Senate, only 23.3% identify as women of color.
  • Only 262 women have served in the U.S. Congress to date (167 Democrats, 85 Republicans).

At the Women’s Law Project, we don’t endorse candidates. But we are concerned with the lack of female representation in our country’s public offices. When high-profile victories for female candidates bring attention to this issue of female representation, we are eager to jump into the discussion.

We want to hear from YOU! What do you think? Do these victories mark a new era for women in politics? Leave a comment below!

About womenslawproject

The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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3 Responses to Victories for Female Candidates: Are We Any Closer to Equal Representation?

  1. Pingback: Spotlight on Conservative Women in Politics « Women's Law Project Blog

  2. Patty Quinn says:

    These women are hypocrites and ingrates. They’ll take empowerment for themselves while they denigrate the women who faced public scorn and abuse to fight for women’s rights, and while they oppose equality for women as a group. They acquire their power by allying themselves with male supremacist politicians like Mike Huckabee, who has called openly for “submissive” women.

    They do this at their peril, and the peril of all of the nation’s women.

  3. karen bojar says:

    I am so tired of reading about the rise of Republican women, sometimes framed as a triumph for feminism.
    See my post”Is the future of feminism Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina and Sarah Palin ? Or is it Hilda Solis, Mary Kay Henry, and the Coalition of Labor Union Women?” at http://www.the-next-stage.com/2010/06/is-future-of-feminism-meg-whitman-carly.html

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