Tag Archives: glass ceiling

The Glass Ceiling for Women in Politics

Democrat Darcy Burner, who lost a very close election for Congress in the 8th CD in Washington State started the discussion. She mused on what might have happened when she lost in a Republican leaning Congressional District to an incumbent whose previous job had been as the Sheriff of King County, the state’s largest county.

Problem is, she did her musing to some Seattle Times reporters and then they started spinning it around. It started with the headline on a blog written by Jim Brunner on the blog Postman on Politics. He entitled his post “A Glass Ceiling for Darcy?”

Part of Darcy’s musing included the following in an e-mail she sent to Brunner.

There has been a lot of talk about this year’s Democratic wave, but it was clearly a wave that helped men more than women. A reasonable hypothesis would be that the wave was related to voter feeling about the war, and that voters responded by preferring Democratic male challengers to Republican incumbents (of either gender), but did not apply that same preference to Democratic female challengers.”

Brunner then belittles newcomer Burner by pointing to Republican Jennifer Dunn previously representing the District. Prior to Dunn running for Congress she was the Chair of the State Republican Party from 1981 to 1992. Democrat Patty Murray won in the 8th in 2004 after already having been a Senator for 6 years. And Democrat Christine Gregoire won in the 8th in her Governor’s race after having been Washington State Attorney General. In addition one needs to consider each of their opponents.

No one disputes, I think, that Burner did not have the name recognition or political experience that these candidates did or the name familiarity and political experience of Sheriff Congressman Dave Reichert. The district has been considered a Republican District and Burner was running against a Republican incumbent Congressman. There were a number of factors, besides these, any one of which by itself could have been the margin of difference in this race. However I thought it was rather dismissive of Brenner to question Darcy’s saying that gender could have been an issue because irregardless of Darcy’s experience or other factors, gender is an issue in every race a woman runs in.

In his next days post entitled “Final Thoughts on Burner” Brenner backs off some noting that the issue of gender is a factor.

“For the record, I don’t think it loopy to look at the role gender can play in an election. You can see it in the “gender gap” which generally has men favoring Republicans and women leaning Democratic. Male and female candidates can be perceived differently. (Some comments in yesterday’s thread only strengthened Burner’s argument by calling her “honey” and telling her to stay at home with the kid.)
But for every male chauvinist out there, there are others who prefer to vote for women. As long as I’ve covered politics here, I’ve heard consultants speak about women candidates as having an advantage. Our state Legislature
ranks 3rd in the percentage of women in the Legislature, according to Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, which also has loads of other data on women in elected office.
For another perspective, researchers
here suggest that many Congressional districts treat Democratic women differently than Republican women. In Washington’s 8th , they predict Republican women having an easier go than Democrats. The methodology is complicated, so take a look for yourself.”

I think Darcy Burner raised an important point that has not been sufficiently looked at even in this state. That is not to say that any number of factors mentioned by others did not also impact this race. And I am not saying that gender was the deciding factor in this race nor did I read Darcy as saying this.

What Darcy did was raise the question. And she is right to raise the question about gender as a factor in who Americans vote for because the numbers show that she was running with an extreme handicap.

The Washington Post in an article headlined “Hill Demographic Goes Slightly More Female” says:

“The House and Senate elections …..added at least five women to the next Congress, the only notable demographic shift in an otherwise dramatic political upheaval……Women in Congress made a net gain of five seats, three in the House and two in the Senate, bringing the total to 86. At least eight new Democratic women and two Republican women were elected to the House, with the possibility of a few more in still unresolved races. Two female Senate victors — Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — will bring the number in that body to 16.”

But a closer look at this slight gain reveals a harsh truth of how we view women in public office.

Even with this year’s election results, nationally women only make up 16% of the members in the US House and also 16% in the US Senate. There are now 16 women who are US Senators and 70 women who are Representatives in the US House. Men hold 84% of the seats in Congress.

How does this compare with the rest of the world? Well to be honest, we stink.

Internationally we rank 67th out of 189 nations in the percentage of women in national parliaments. Rawanda has 48.8%, Sweden 47.3%, Costa Rica 38.6 ….. even Afghanistan at 27.3% women and Iraq at 25.5% have more women in office. In the United States of America we only have women at 16%.
You can see the list at Women in National Parliaments.

And its not just Congress.

As Trinity University’s Presidents Blog notes in commenting on Nancy Pelosi, class of 1962, becoming Speaker of the House , there is still a long way to go for more women to become part of the political power structure:

“Only 8 women are currently governors of states, including Trinity Alumna Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius in Kansas. In all 225 years of U.S. history, only 25 women have ever been governors.”

Again the current numbers translate to 16% of Governors being female.

While women are working their way into state legislatures, there is still not a true sharing of the political power structure between men and women proportional to their numbers.

As the National Council of State Legislatures notes:
The 2007 session will see 1,731 women legislators serving across the country. Women currently hold 23.3 percent of legislative seats in the 50 states, a ratio that has increased only slightly over the past ten years.

Washington State has now moved from 3rd highest to 6th highest in percentage of women in our Legislature with this year’s elections.

New Hampshire 36.3%
Vermont 35.6%
Minnesota 34.8%
Colorado 34%
Hawaii 32.9%
Washington 32.7%

The lowest state is South Carolina at 8.8%

In 2003 Washington State women legislators numbered 54 out of 147 or 36.7%. In 2007 the number will be 48 out of 147 or 32.7%.

We remain a country dominated by men on all levels. Women still have a long way to go until they reach any kind of parity with their actual percentage in the population, whether it be for State Legislature, Congress, Governor, Senator or President. Until then every woman, including Darcy Burner, will start and finish with a gender bias handicap that they have to fight against in election after election in addition to all the other factors that decide the outcome of an election.

In the meantime comments like Darcy Burner’s noting this glass ceiling’s existence speaks to the truth and points to just another reason why Darcy Burner almost won her race. She was not afraid to speak the truth which many want to deny or ignore but which is obvious in looking at the results in election after election.

See Also:
“Women, War and Darcy” Evergreen Politics

“Winning Women?”NY Times Magazine 10/29/2006

“Needed: a few good men?” Seattle Times 11/19/2006