Many talking-heads in the media have been, in the aftermath of last night’s election results, referring to this election year as “The Year of the Woman.” It certainly seems as such given the number of records broken by women in this election: Elizabeth Warren is the first female senator from Massachusetts; Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is the first openly gay person to be elected to the US Senate; for the first time in history all of the New Hampshire’s Congressional seats are being occupied by women, not one man will represent that state in DC; and there are now more women in Congress than ever before. It is certainly a year of broken records and a series of firsts, but “The Year of the Woman?” I’m not so sure I’d go that far. Not that I am not pleased to see so many women, whom I have come to respect and admire as I have watched them rise, like Warren and Baldwin, to both win their respective races but to make history while doing it, it’s just that there is still so much to do. So, so much to do.
While there are more women in Congress than ever before, the number of women Congressional members comprises only about thirty percent of all seats in Congress; of the 535 total seats (100 in the Senate and 435 in the House), thus far -some districts are still counting- women hold 20 seats in the Senate and 141 in the House. Although this is certainly a gain, it’s far from a true representation of the nation, of which women make up nearly 51%, and it has been a long time coming. The Untied States is 225 years old; it took 133 years from the year the Constitution was ratified, in 1787, to the year women were finally recognized as citizens and given the right to vote, in 1920, and another 92 years for us to reach this record breaking year….I know that progress can at times be slow, but c’mon now! It’s been 225 years, and it’s the 21st century, yet still women are not fully represented in this nation.
In the 225 years that we have been the United States of America and in the 92 years since women finally were given the vote, only thirty-five women have served as governors and there are still twenty-four state that have never had a female governor. In that same time there have only been thirty-nine women (42 if you count the new senator-elects) to serve in the senate, with 1992 marking the year that women began to be elected in number rather than one or two here and there, and only twenty-three states have been represented in the senate by women. Also, in that time, the House has had only 229 women fill it’s seats, and at present women make up about only 17% of the House.
My point here is not to downplay the successes and milestones female politicians achieved last night; to the contrary, I am both excited for them and hopeful that this is a sign of better things to come for women in this nation. Instead, my point is to merely demonstrate that this is but one more step in a very long journey toward true sexual equality in the US. While 2012 can certainly be seen as a year of firsts in which women broke records and tore down walls, it cannot rightly be called “The Year of the Woman.” Perhaps we will have that year soon and it will mark the closing of the gender gap that divides this country nearly in half, but there is much to be done before we can have that year. When women make up at least half of Congress, when women have served as governor to every state, when our bodies are no longer fought over by male politicians as if they’re public property, when we no longer make 77 cents for every dollar earned by a white male, when a woman has held the highest office in our land, when we’ve achieved at least half of this then and only then will women have finally had our year.
Nevertheless, 2012 is our year in this sense: we came out in record numbers, both as candidates and as voters, and we won a record number of seats for women. We had our hard won rights threatened by misogynists in the GOP, like Todd Akin and Tom Smith, and we stood up together and said, “Oh hell, no!” So, while I think that calling 2012, “The Year of the Woman,” is less than accurate, I think 2012 will be remembered as the year in which women truly found our voices and our strength and started fighting back; in which we finally decided that it was time to stop taking baby steps and to start making leaps and bounds; and in which we made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that we are done playing by the rules of those who would hold us back. 2012 is just the beginning, we will have our year and it will be a wondrous sight to behold!