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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation April 6, 2018


​Google celebrated Maya Angelou's birthday this week with this cover photo

Dear friends,

The big story this week in the United States is the record number of women running for the House of Representatives in 2018 - so far. Read CAWP's press release for more details. While it's fabulous that so many women are declaring their intention to run it's also important to keep this news in perspective:

  • The House of Representatives makes up just .08% of all the 520,000 elected offices in the United States
  • Democratic women candidates far outnumber Republican women candidates
  • Male candidates still outnumber female candidates
  • Recruitment targets, fair voting systems, & modern legislative workplace norms are all necessary to ensure that enduring progress toward parity is made for all women


After Virginia released its candidate list Thursday, a total of 309 women from the two major parties have filed candidacy papers to run for the House. That tops the previous record of 298 in 2012.

The AP analyzed data going back to 1992 from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University and did its own review of candidate information released by the states.

While just over half the nation’s population is female, four out of every five members of the U.S. House are men. The women’s candidacies won’t necessarily change that. They still have to survive party primaries and win the general election, often against an incumbent with name recognition and a large reservoir of campaign cash.

Even with the record numbers, women are still outnumbered by male candidates. But experts say the sheer number of women running combined with so many House seats open due to retirements or resignations provides one of the best opportunities for women to make real gains in terms of representation and a change in priorities.

VoteRunLead and Bustle teamed up to conduct The American Women's Political Engagement Poll which found that "1 in 4 Women Polled Indicated That They Have Been Motivated To Run Or Become Politically EngagedBecause Of The 2016 Election."

Women across the political spectrum are considering throwing their hats in the ring to run for office at all levels of local, state, and national office, including women who voted for Donald Trump (25 percent), Latinas (24 percent), black women (16 percent), and white women (12 percent). As the midterms get closer, Republican and Democratic women are building momentum and hoping to appeal to the next generation of voters. Movements like #MeToo and Time's
 Up are helping to rewrite the narrative for women and prove that they are influencing elections in new ways.
When it comes to the matters that are most important to women when considering a candidate, 67 percent surveyed, said healthcare was the top issue for them. Healthcare was the top issue no matter the women's affiliation or who they voted for, proving that healthcare is a pivotal focal point for all parties. Other top issues were education (48 percent) and the economy (43 percent).
The American Women's Political Engagement Poll, showed that women are savvy, open-minded, and inclusive voters. They support candidates of all genders and backgrounds as long as the candidate's issues align with their values. Seventy-nine percent of the women polled said that when choosing between similar candidates, they do not take gender into account -- 60 percent said they didn't think or weren't sure if sexism played a role in the presidential election.
The women surveyed valued honesty above all other qualities in a candidate (62 percent). Sixty percent of Democratic respondents, 39 percent of Independents, and 9 percent of Republicans rated Donald Trump's first year in office as an "F." A clear shift and direct result of the 2016 election is that women now feel that political experience is no longer a necessity to run for office or vote for a candidate.
Only Independents said that years of political experience was one of their top ranked characteristics for an ideal political candidate (21 percent). In fact, 29 percent of women who are considering or who are running, said seeing that someone without political experience could run and win, inspired them.


Hats off to the Women's Commission in Fort Collins, CO that is leading the process to rename streets after notable women according to this story in the Rocky Mountain Collegian:

Hughes, Mathew, James, Maxwell, Bryan: what do all of these names have in common? They are all street names found around Colorado State University and in the city of Fort Collins; a city which names roads in honor of influential, successful or outstanding people. The problem that the Women’s Commission of Fort Collins has taken issue with is that these names all belong to men.

At a monthly Women’s Commission meeting held March 21, 2018, the underrepresentation of women in the city’s street names was addressed. The commission’s solution to this issue was the implementation of their 2018 street naming project. “This is an ongoing project that strives to bring appropriate representation of women in the community to our city,” Lexie Kuznick said, who is a Women’s Commission member. The commission has begun recording women of the past and present who qualify as candidates for a city street name.

The influential people that they are looking for in this process include women from any profession and walk of life, Women’s Commission staff liaison, Alyssa Stephens, said. They want to find women who have left their mark on the Fort Collins community and who deserve to be recognized. This process of finding qualifying women has already been started by the Zonta Club, a group devoted to advancing the status of women worldwide. Zonta is working diligently to find important women from the past who have yet to be acknowledged or honored. The commission has been helping this process by collecting oral histories and documentation and by finding women who are still alive today to tell their stories. It is Zonta and the commission’s goal to find as many qualified women as they can for this project, from the past and present day.

In a recent street naming project done over the summer of 2017 for the Capstone Cottages development, the suggested street names consisted of males. Barney Apodaca, Jim Reidhead, Bob Everitt and Dick Beardmore were a few of the options that the city was looking into. While all of these men qualify in ways that should be recognized, ranging from having disabilities to being founders, it is notable that there was a lack of women recognized during this time. It is clear that there is a real need for the project headed by the Women’s Commission.

There was an interesting story in the Samoa Observer about collaborative efforts in that nation to elect more women to office:

A new leadership project is being launched in Samoa today with the aim to build on advances in gender equality.

The Women in Leadership in Samoa (W.I.L.S.) Project seeks to improve gender equality and women’s leadership in Samoa. 

W.I.L.S. represents the second phase of the Increasing Political Participation of Women in Samoa (I.P.P.W.S.) Project, which was in place from 2014 to 2016. 

Samoa has made significant advances in development and in promoting gender equality. Women now hold five of the 50 seats in the national parliament – equating to the 10 per cent required as a result of the 2013 constitutional amendment. 

Furthermore, in the 2016 general election a record of 24 women stood for election, which was a 300% increase from the previous election. 

There are always lots of good things to read but this week there are two things that are well worth listening to:

  • Avi Green of the Scholars Strategy Network interviews Saskia Brechenmacher of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace on this great podcast about her new paper on a European perspective on how to elect more women to office faster
  • Gwen Young of the Wilson Center moderates a panel discussion on Saskia's paper with Michelle Whittaker of the Democracy Initiative and myself - listen to the session here.


Terrific news from Costa Rica this week - that nation elected its first Afro-Latina vice president - I believe there is just one woman head of state in all of the Americas so this news is welcome for many reasons:

54-year-old Campbell – named after her grandmother who immigrated from Jamaica to Costa Rica – is an economist who has served in the legislature and previously ran for vice-president. She has used her platform to speak out against racism in the country. In 2015, for example, she criticized Cocorí, one of Costa Rica’s most famous works of literature. Joaquín Gutiérrez’s 1947 children’s book features a young Afro-Caribbean boy searching for a monkey while leaning on stereotypes and racist caricatures. When the National Music Center aimed to adapt the book into a musical, Campbell spoke out and successfully stopped the project.

As of the 2011 census, the Central American country had a 7.9 percent – or 334,000 – Afro-Costa Rican population, so her involvement in politics is crucial. Having worked with the Center for Women of African Descent, the Alliance of Leaders of African Descent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Black Parliament of the Americas, Campbell has made her mark. She vows to do more in her new role. “It will be a responsibility not only to represent people of African descent but to represent all women and men in the country,” she said, “a country that gives us all the same opportunities.”

Leading feminist author Marianne Schnall, wrote about the newly-launched ReflectUS coalition this week for the Women's Media Center:

Recognizing that 100 years is far too long to wait for gender parity and that now is the time to harness the energy of this historic moment, eight top women’s political organizations have joined forces to form ReflectUS, a groundbreaking nonpartisan coalition committed to fast-tracking women’s representation across all political offices. The coalition consists of Empowered Women, Higher Heights, IGNITE, LatinasRepresent, RepresentWomen, She Should Run, VoteRunLead, and Women Influencers Network


As Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, put it, “We’re experiencing an incredibly exciting moment as thousands of women are stepping forward to make a difference, but the fact is that among the 520,000 elected offices across our country, there is a 140,000-woman deficit in political office. ReflectUS brings together the resources, experience, and know-how of these eight key organizations so women from all political parties and backgrounds can run, win, and serve.”

And finally, the often memorable Alexandra Petri had an especially memorable column in the Washington Post wondering how it would read if male authors described men in their literature in the same way they describe women:

Raymond Chandler
Marlowe was the kind of brunette who would make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window, and only half the hole would be from heterosexual panic. The other half would be that look he gave you, under his hat brim, the kind of look you thought maybe you could cash in later in a cheap hotel room, before you saw the headache sticking out of his hip pocket.

Leo Tolstoy
Vronsky had once been beautiful. His hands, once white and soft, were thin and wasted from the labors of child-rearing, and his face appeared pinched and unattractive. His voice had acquired a querulous tone. His arms, once the right shape, were now the wrong shape, because of the passage of time and the moral degradation that came with it. There was a horse who suffered an awful accident, and Vronsky was like that in a way.

White-thighed Odysseus emerged from the water freshly bathed and glistening with oil /
His skin glowed like the dawn sweeping in on his swiftly sandaled feet /
The goddess beheld him with rapture

George R.R. Martin
Jon Snow’s abs moved imperceptibly beneath his tunic, firm and hard and pale like winter apples that had been harvested, sliced carefully and arrayed in rows.

John Updike
He peed, but he had no idea how, because inside his body was anatomy that was impossible to understand.

Ernest Hemingway
He had a butt that looked good. She grasped the butt with her hands. He was a bit put out but not too much. This was how things went between men and women.

Jack Kerouac
His lovely ripe pectorals were barely concealed beneath his white nightshirt, and Dean looked at me as if to say, if this is America, I’d like to see more of it.

William Faulkner
He had been a big man once, but now his skeleton rose, draped loosely in unpadded skin that tightened again upon a paunch almost dropsical, as though muscle and tissue had been courage or fortitude which the days or the years had consumed until only the indomitable skeleton was left rising like a ruin or a landmark or a statue or a monument to a cause that boys see not once but whenever they want it, so it’s always the instant when it’s still not yet two o’clock on a July afternoon in 1863, the brigades in position behind the rail fence, the guns laid and ready in the woods and the furled flags already loosened, every year for a thousand years.

Have a lovely weekend - I hope that the snow predicted for DC won't discourage the shoots and blossoms just emerging.

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