A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Where are the Senate's women? It matters.

The lede for this morning's feature article in Politico:

Four months after taking an electoral pounding, Republicans cant agree on what went wrong in 2012 let alone on a path to recovery.Each week brings a new diagnosis of the partys woes. Karl Rove says its candidate quality. Mitt Romney chief strategist Stuart Stevens argues Democrats have won over minority voters through government programs like Obamacare. Some Bush White House vets say its the GOPs trouble understanding how to approach a changing electorate. Techy conservatives blame the partys inferior social media presence and outdated voter targeting and data-mining. [...]Theres a split between those who believe the partys problem is cosmetic, those who believe its data-based and those who think its ideological and policy-based. Within those camps, theres no common ground on what a better approach would look like.

All these analyses may be right. But I think the photo the editors chose to run with the story signals the simplest aspect of the GOP's woes. As Gallup demonstrated, the gender gap in the 2012 vote was the largest in the poll's 60-year history. And though the next national election will choose senators that will usher in the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment (in 2020), there is still one party that is represented in grave disproportion by men.Consider our most august body of elected officials, the U.S. Senate, which currently has 4 women from the Republican party. One might retort that the Democrats have only 16 women, and indeed both parties have far to go before approaching a more "representative" government.

But what appears to be a 4-to-1 difference is actually much more dramatic in terms of representation and voter perception. Instead of counting Senate seats, let's consider how many actual people are represented by these senators. Republicans have AK, ME, NE, and NH. Democrats have CA (2), HI, LA, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, NC, ND, NH, NY, WA (2), and WI. The tally is about 5,236,900 people represented by a female Republican senator and about 121,816,900 people represented by a female Democratic senator.

So there is a 4-to-1 difference in seats, but there is a 23-to-1 difference in terms of actual voters. Almost 39% of our population is represented in the Senate by a female Democrat. Only 1.7% of our population is represented in the Senate by a female Republican.

One final number: if we double-count CA and WA for the Democrats, since both members of their delegations are women, the percentage shoots up to 53%. Granted, this is some funny math, since they are representing the same citizens. But it brings the point home that female Democratic senators are representing very populous states, while the Republicans are not.

In a representative democracy, people want to be represented. That's the GOP's biggest problem -- and it's not just, as they say, a cosmetic one. 


Commenting Guidelines

Now let's do the same math for the Church ...

What self-respecting woman could belong to such a club?

"there is still one party that is represented in grave disproportion by men."I would say two parties.

Margaret, indeed! But haven't we joined worse.

And you have to love the hats.

While the lack of more women in leadership roles is hurting our politics, by focusing on it we miss the broader dimensions of what afflicts the American body politic.The only anecdote to this and other political problems about the broken state of the Congress requires something that makes the eyes of even the most wonkier folks here on dotCommonweal glaze over: Change the Constitution.It's time for a new American constitutional convention to rewrite the US Constitution and Bill of Rights so that it not only reflects our history since 1789 but also prepares us for the brave new world of the 21st century where the US will not be the dominant economic power. There have been myriad analyses in the media for years about the political imbalances between different US geographic regions from tax revenues to gender equality to military installations to income distributions to educational funding to voting rights, ... and on and on.There are NO politicians [Zippo!] at this present time on the scene, or in the offing, that have a clue about addressing these problems. So we citizens are consigned to lurching from one sequester to debt crisis to the next fiscal cliff to down-grading the US bond rating. What's next? And, the media just loves this: it feeds their 24/7 talk and information machine. The US is an empire in decline.Our major political parties are just a symptom of the underlying disease: Democrats try to keep the creaking mess going. Republicans have a death wish. The congenital inability to make a choice dominates the independents at the political center with their infuriating feckless passive aggressive indecision. [Note how Romney had a bump in the polls following the first debate, mainly fueled by independents concluding: "Hey, this white guy can really lie his way out of trouble - just like the Gipper!"]When he ran for President in 2000, Bill Bradley told us that "our politics are broken." We didn't listen then. We're not listening now.

Constitutional convention, si! Term limits for SCOTUS. Throw out the 2nd Amendment.

In the swath of suburbia where I reside, there are quite a few elected Republican women officials. But for whatever reason, they don't seem to go "up-ticket" to Congress, much less the Senate. I don't know why that would be, but it seems to be the case.

It would no doubt be good to see more Republican women in the Senate, though I'd much prefer more Democratic Senators, whatever their gender.I think we're using "representative" equivocally in this discussion. The word "representative" in "representative democracy" does not mean the same thing as the same word in the sentence "he was representative of his generation." In the context of political process, to represent means to advance the interests of; in the context of identity politics it means to resemble. It is the first meaning that ought to concern us first. Do I believe that, all other things being equal, a senator who's a man represents me better than one who is a woman? Not really, no. And if all those other things really are equal (a very big if), then a man might represent a woman as well as a woman would, just as an African American senator may represent me as well as a white senator.Let's say, hypothetically, that there were both rich and poor senators. A rich senator who voted to extend unemployment insurance, raise the minimum wage, and protect Medicaid would represent the poor voters in his state better than a poor senator who voted against their interests (and his own). Demographic correspondences of the kind Michael is writing about here are finally a pretty weak indicator of whether or not our elected leaders are representing their constituents well.

"I dont know why that would be, but it seems to be the case.'A long-standing Catholic practice as well ...." Gives truth to the adage that you'll always be, Rarely the dog, but most often the tree."From NCR about the time (1983?) when this finally stopped being forbidden.

I think that, all else being equal, a Senate that was half female would serve all of us better- men and women- than would a Senate that's not reflective of all of our voices. 70% of those women Senators, by the way, were once Girl Scouts (only 8% of US women were scouts).The Girl Scouts launched a campaign this year ToGetHerThere which is aimed at increasing the number of women leaders. Among its' many goals is to see Congress achieve parity by 2037.

I cut off the first part, so here it is en toto:"Ladies, Ladies, soon you'll agree This altar girl crumb from the Holy See Gives truth to the adage that you'll always be, Rarely the dog, but most often the tree." From NCR about the time (1983?) when this finally stopped being forbidden.

I didn't realize there were only four female republican senators. That adds some specificity to a quasi-serious proposal I recently made in a local newspaper column regarding the budget deadlock in Congress: "One behavior expert has called it middle school behavior. It is that. It is also guy behavior. Stupid standoffs seem to be our speciality. Why not turn negotiations over to the women in Congress. Let them select an equal number from each party (four in the Senate) and show how things can be settled, how adults behave. And if they can't do it, well, like a the ending of an old cheerleading chant from way back in the last century, "nobody can."

Matthew, your distinctions are correct, of course. And I intended to equivocate in the final line of my post. I agree it is theoretically possible that a Republican Senate delegation of men could advocate for issues primarily of concern to women, but the history has not shown that to be case very often. Laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act were passed because of the tireless efforts of congresswomen such as Pat Schroeder, and such advocacy I think demonstrates that the two meanings of "represent" are not often separable in political practice. Yes, people are capable of putting themselves in another's shoes, or stepping behind a Rawlsian veil of ignorance when crafting public policy, but in practice we are not very good at this.

If were going to reduce ourselves to something as superficial as counting by sex, I see 6 women contributors on dotcommonweal, and 24 men. Hmmmm. Talk about a mens club!

Mark ... you are a year late and many dollars short. Gerelyn has dealt with this matter over and over and over.

True, Jim, but it's good to know that an all-round conservative has gotten the message.

Jim--When you are ready to actually address my point, please let me know.

Mark- Maybe it only seems superficial when it 's not your own gender that's heavily under-represented. And especially when that under-represented gender continues to experience discrimination in our society.

Irene--So, do you see this as evidence of discrimination?

Mark-I need to ask you, now, what is your point?

IreneThe point of my question was to raise the possibility that disproportionate representation is not a sign of (unjust) discrimination.As a further example, lets suppose theres a Jesuit University in, say, Manhattan where the male/female faculty ratio is heavily slanted towards one sex. Should I conclude the over-represented sex has benefited from unjust discrimination? That they should resign immediately to renounce their ill-gotten gains? Of course not. I think it would be inexcusably presumptuous and mean-spirited for me to jump to those conclusions.

It seems pretty clear that the Democrats are finding electable women candidates. It's pretty arguable that the Republicans are not. And the gender gap was large in the last presidential election. Both parties regularly beat the bushes, looking for candidates to groom and run. Republicans should work harder to identify electable women.

Mark- I do indeed believe that gross under-representation is a sign of discrimination. Both in the Senate and in the hypothetical university. (If the University in question were not co-ed, or the faculty were 100% Jesuit, that would be different, of course).And yes, you would indeed be, as you say, inexcusably presumptuous and mean-spirited to insist the members of the over-represented group resign. Just as you would be inexcusably presumptuous and mean-spirited to dismiss the claims of the marginalized group that they be more fully included.The Christian and generous thing for you to do would be to figure out how you can stand in solidarity with the marginalized and work together with them to make the institution in question more inclusive.