Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seriously!?! The State of Women's (Under)Representation in Public Office Is Ridiculous

Pride - and trepidation - The Boston Globe - Yvonne Abraham

Bravo to Yvonne Abraham, a columnist for The Boston Globe, who recently drew attention to the gross underrepresentation of women in all levels of government. If Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley wins in the special election on January, 19th, there will still only be 18 women serving in the U.S. Senate. Yes, you read right. Currently, there are only 17 women in the U.S. Senate. As we like to say in the offices of the Women & Politics Institute: seriously!?!

Women (and their bodies) have been the focal point for much heated political discussion of late. The national dialogue on health care reform has prompted news coverage of everything from mammograms to sexual assault to plastic surgery. It turns out that every woman, no matter what her state of health, qualifies as having a pre-existing condition. And I'm not going to begin to wade into the controversy over the Stupak-Pitts Amendment and the restrictions it would place on access to abortion coverage.

Health care is no joking matter. Don't get me wrong, I don't exactly think that the small number of women serving in public office is the stuff of late-night, but it is sufficiently ridiculous that, at times, laughter seems the only appropriate response. Women make up over half of the population in the U.S. and are more likely to vote than men. Yet there are only 17 women in the U.S. Senate... Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and 80 other countries all have a larger percentage of women serving in the national legislature than theU.S. does. Seriously!?!

In highlighting these embarrassing statistics (and lamenting women's underrepresentation in public office) Abraham is a hardly offering a controversial argument. She deftly points out that the issue is one of fundamental fairness - these numbers speak to a problem with the legitimacy of the U.S. goverment. "To paraphrase John Adams, government can truly represent everyone’s interests only when everyone is truly represented in government."

I don't mean to suggest that health care reform and its attendant policy implications for women's issues is in any way unimportant. But amid the horse-race obsessed coverage of Congressional debate, Abraham has offered a means to return to a broader conversation about the place of women in American politics, a conversation that whether it makes you laugh or not, we should all be having.