Weekend Reading on Women's Representation August 9, 2019

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on August 09, 2019

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“The enemy is not men. The enemy is the concept of patriarchy, the concept of patriarchy as the way to run the world or do things.”   Toni Morrison
Hello friends,
As I am certain you all know, the noted American author Toni Morrison died this week at the age of 88. The New York Times wrote about her life and work:

Toni Morrison, the Nobel laureate in literature whose best-selling work explored black identity in America — and in particular the often crushing experience of black women — through luminous, incantatory prose resembling that of no other writer in English, died on Monday in the Bronx. She was 88.

Her death, at Montefiore Medical Center, was announced by her publisher, Alfred A. Knopf. A spokeswoman said the cause was complications of pneumonia. Ms. Morrison lived in Grand View-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1993, Ms. Morrison was the author of 11 novels as well as children’s books and essay collections. Among them were celebrated works like “Song of Solomon,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1977, and “Beloved,” which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.

Ms. Morrison was one of the rare American authors whose books were both critical and commercial successes. Her novels appeared regularly on the New York Times best-seller list, were featured multiple times on Oprah Winfrey’s television book club and were the subject of myriad critical studies. A longtime faculty member at Princeton, Ms. Morrison lectured widely and was seen often on television.

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RepresentWomen intern Gilda Geist had a piece on the Fair Representation Act -  that is projected to elect 40% more women to the U.S. House - published in the new online publication The Fulcrum this week - congratulations to Gilda!

In response to the recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld partisan gerrymandering, Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia reintroduced the Fair Representation Act on July 25. This bill would implement ranked choice voting, multi-member House districts and rules for congressional redistricting.

What do all three have in common? They're simpler than they seem and are important for increasing women's representation in American government. Currently, women make up 24 percent of Congress, 29 percent of state legislators, and 0 percent of all U.S. presidents. This is because our current voting system protects incumbents, limits competition and perpetuates the status quo.

One way the Beyer bill would tackle this issue is ranked choice voting. This is an electoral method where instead of choosing only one favorite candidate, voters can rank the candidates in order of preference.

Here's how it works when electing one candidate in the smallest states, like Wyoming and Vermont, which have just one House seat. If a candidate earns more than half of first choices, that candidate wins. If no candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote, the last place candidate's votes are redistributed from those voters' next choice candidate. This process of eliminating last-place candidates and redistributing their votes repeats until one person has a majority of votes and is declared the winner.

Under the Beyer bill however, most states would use ranked choice voting to elect more than one person in each congressional district. When more than one candidate wins, more voters can help elect one of their favorite candidates because the Fair Representation Act is an American, candidate-based form of proportional representation. With three people getting elected to represent one district for example, just over three out of every four voters will elect a favorite candidate because each candidate can win with just over a quarter of the vote. The ranked choice voting tally adds a couple of extra steps to accomplish this goal, but remains just as easy for voters.

What's most important is what ranked choice voting does for fairness. It helps increase women's representation because it is more representative of the electorate. While the current winner-take-all system favors incumbents and reinforces the status quo, ranked choice voting and multi-member districts create opportunities for all underrepresented groups, including women.

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Equality Can't Wait - a project of Melinda Gates and her foundation Pivotal Ventures - launched this week with this terrific video featuring Maya Rudolph, Carol Burnett, Sarah Silverman, John Mulaney, Margaret Cho and other leading comedians calling for women's equality in the workplace, in the home, and in politics:

Coming on the heels of Melinda’s book, The Moment of Lift, Equality Can’t Wait is a call to action—to start new conversations, to create a sense of urgency, and to encourage all Americans to contribute to making equality happen in our lifetime.       

Stay tuned for updates on the campaign and use the #EqualityCantWait hastag on these platforms:

There is indeed so much work to be done but I believe today more than ever that our power resides in our ability to work effectively together to support one another, to test new strategies, and to push as hard as we can for what is right.

Warmly,

Cynthia

P.S. I was lucky to spend a few days this week with the new cohort of 79 State Department Fellows who have come to work in the USA via the Community Solutions Program - RepresentWomen is grateful to have a fellow from Pakistan with us for the next 4 months!

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And don't forget to join us at Seneca Falls Revisited - register at https://crewomen.org/ to hear fabulous speakers and help to shape the conversation about women's equality in 2020 and beyond.

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