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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation December 22, 2023

Dear Readers,

It’s hard to believe the end of 2023 is right around the corner! With the holiday season in full swing, the RepresentWomen team had a lovely time hosting our virtual holiday party last week. We were joined by a wonderful group of partners, allies, and friends to celebrate all we’ve accomplished this year and share our plans for the new year. 

This is the last week for many of our fall interns and we want to take this opportunity to say our heartfelt thanks for your passion, dedication, and hard work! We wish you all the best in your future endeavors. 

Toasting to a great year of building women's political power at RepresentWomen's Virtual Holiday Party.

Now let’s see what’s been happening this week in the world of women’s political representation.

One More Win for Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)!

2023 may be coming to a close, but RCV’s momentum has not slowed down. On Wednesday, in an unanimous vote, the Arlington County Board voted to use RCV in all County Board primaries. RCV was used in the primaries for the first time this summer, June 2024. Our great colleague Deb Otis, who is the Director of Research and Policy at our partner organization FairVote, said the following in their recent press release

“With ranked choice voting, Arlington voters will continue to experience better choices, better campaigns, and better representation. 

This past June’s County Board primaries proved that ranked choice voting can dramatically upgrade elections in Arlington. The election ran smoothly. Turnout was strong. Voters said they liked RCV, and took advantage of the opportunity to rank their choices. 

By making ranked choice voting the norm, the Arlington County Board is setting an example for the rest of Virginia and the nation.”

Recapping 2023: Notable Wins for Women in Politics

As 2023 wraps up, many of us in the women’s movement are reflecting on the year, and noting the wins we have had. Some of these victories are captured in our 2023 Gender Parity Index, which had two “A” states for the first time, and others in our New York City Impact Analysis which shows the impact a woman-majority council can have on policy priorities. Our friends at the Barbara Lee Family Foundation cover their top 12 wins for women in politics in their special edition media round-up featured in Gender on the Ballot this week. Here we highlight a few:

1. In November 2022, history was made when 12 women were elected to serve as governor of their state, breaking the previous record of 9 set in 2004…

3. In February 2023, Jennifer McClellan made history when she was elected to fill an open seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, making her the first Black woman to represent Virginia in Congress…

5. Women made history during this year’s elections – especially at the state and local level. In Philadelphia, Cherelle Parker became the first woman and Black woman elected mayor of the city. In Des Moines, Iowa, Connie Boeson was elected the city’s first woman mayor. Lilly Wu became Wichita, Kansas’ first Asian American mayor. Nadia Mohamed was elected St. Lous Park, Minnesota’s first Somali American mayor, and is believed to be the first Somali American elected mayor of any U.S. city on the state level. Danica Roem won her race to become Virginia’s first transgender state Senator and the second-ever in the country…  

9. Laphonza Butler makes history as the first openly lesbian Black woman in the U.S. Senate.

100 Years Ago, The Equal Rights Amendment Was Introduced. It Hasn’t Yet Been Passed

From left to right: Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B Anthony, and Lucretia Mott. The sculptor left the stone on the left uncarved to recognize the work of all the many suffragists who made, and will make, a contribution to the work for women's equality.

As Frederic J. Frommer reported in the Washington Post last week, it’s been 100 years since the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Over those 100 years, both champions and opponents of the amendment have been vocal, but progress has been slow. As of 2023, just 38 states have ratified the ERA.

America’s feminists were feeling confident. Three years earlier, they’d won passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. And now, 100 years ago this week, they watched as the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced in Congress for the first time.

They had plenty of reason for optimism. They couldn’t have anticipated that, a century later, the ERA would still be languishing…

The amendment went nowhere in Congress for a half-century. There wasn’t momentum for it until the modern women’s rights movement, when both houses of Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of a slightly reworded Equal Rights Amendment in 1971 and 1972. It then came up just short of the ratification threshold of passage by three-fourths of the states by the deadline set by Congress…

In the early ’70s, there was a near-consensus among politicians for the ERA: President Richard M. Nixon backed it, and only eight senators voted against it. By contrast, the early backers a century ago were ahead of their time — and of much of American society.

The text of the original ERA read, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction…”

But a hundred years after it was first introduced, ERA champions are still waiting.

Cheri Beasley Reflects on Her Campaign Experience 

Cheri Beasley, former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice

This past November, Cheri Beasley lost the election for North Carolina’s open seat in the U.S. Senate. Although this loss came as a disappointment to Beasley and her supporters, it is clear that her campaign achieved notable milestones and paved the way for more Black women in politics. As highlighted in an article by Candice Norwood published in The 19th, Beasley was the first Black woman to ever be nominated by a major party for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina.

Still, given the severe underrepresentation of Black women within the Senate, Beasley’s loss is particularly disheartening. Compared to their white and male counterparts, Black women typically face far steeper barriers when it comes to running for office and getting elected. Keep an eye out for our upcoming brief on Black Women in Politics, which dives into the unique barriers Black women face in our political system.

Candice Norwood reports:

It was clear from our conversation that Beasley saw herself as much more than another candidate who lost an election. She was the first Black woman nominated by a major party for a U.S. Senate seat in North Carolina. She ran a competitive campaign as a Democrat. To her that is significant, not just personally, but for Black women candidates in the South and Black women generally…

“We really shouldn’t look at it as a loss for the effort of Black women running and seeking higher office,” Beasley said. “I was a credible candidate, and every time we run and fight hard, we are moving the ball forward. That makes it easier for the next African-American woman to run and hopefully win…”

Only three Black women in U.S. history have been U.S. senators. There has never been a Black woman governor. Securing these high-profile positions is a particular challenge for candidates who are often shut out of fundraising, networking and other opportunities more open to candidates who are White and men... 

Beasley is aware of the collective hardships Black women candidates face — from the lack of robust financial investment to blatant racism. These difficulties keep some Black women from running for office altogether…

While Butler said she will not run to hold the seat she was appointed to, it’s likely the next Senate will have at least one Black woman. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware is viewed as a favorite to win, and in Maryland, Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has endorsements from a number of high-ranking Democrats in the blue state. 

Beasley said it’s exciting to see the line-up of Black women for 2024, and she is hopeful there will continue to be advancements in this representation.

America’s Founding Narratives Discourage Women and People of Color From Seeking Elected Office

The London School of Economics published new research by Amanda Clayton, Diana Z. O’Brien, and Jennifer M. Piscopo about a significant consequence of holding the U.S. ‘Founding Fathers’ to high esteem. The authors suggest that the underrepresentation of women and people of color, who were barred from participating in politics during the formation of our country, is impacted by how history is told. 

Why women remain underrepresented in elected office is an enduring question in gender and politics research. Many scholars and commentators point to a gender gap in political ambition, where women express less interest in running for office than men. Our new research flips the question – rather than asking why women have so little ambition, we ask: Why do men have so much?

We show that how politics is portrayed affects which groups see themselves as political leaders. The images, narratives, and symbols of politics all send the message that politics is a place where great men accomplish great things. In the United States, this message is sent via reverence for the ‘Founding Fathers’: the celebration of the men – like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton – who played leading roles in US independence and early government in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

In our study, reminding people about the Founding Fathers’ achievements increased political ambition among white men, but not among men of colour or women. Who gets memorialised in countries’ founding narratives matters for the present day, with national origin stories encouraging white men to see themselves as especially suited for politics.

Our terrific Communications Intern, Nora Weiss, also wrote a piece to honor the legacy of the late Sandra Day O’Conner. As a trailblazer in the U.S. Supreme Court who served with integrity, passion, and wisdom, O’Conner’s work will be remembered for generations to come.  

Every year I share this passage from the Wind in the Willows as it resonates with me as an aspiring-gracious host and leader:

"There was no more talk of play-acting once the very real and solid contents of the basket had been tumbled out on the table. Under the generalship of Rat, everybody was set to do something or to fetch something. In a very few minutes supper was ready, and Mole, as he took the head of the table in a sort of a dream, saw a lately barren board set thick with savoury comforts; saw his little friends' faces brighten and beam as they fell to without delay; and then let himself loose—for he was famished indeed—on the provender so magically provided, thinking what a happy home-coming this had turned out, after all. As they ate, they talked of old times, and the field-mice gave him the local gossip up to date, and answered as well as they could the hundred questions he had to ask them. The Rat said little or nothing, only taking care that each guest had what he wanted, and plenty of it, and that Mole had no trouble or anxiety about anything.

They clattered off at last, very grateful and showering wishes of the season, with their jacket pockets stuffed with remembrances for the small brothers and sisters at home. When the door had closed on the last of them and the chink of the lanterns had died away, Mole and Rat kicked the fire up, drew their chairs in, brewed themselves a last nightcap of mulled ale, and discussed the events of the long day. At last the Rat, with a tremendous yawn, said, 'Mole, old chap, I'm ready to drop. Sleepy is simply not the word. That your own bunk over on that side? Very well, then, I'll take this. What a ripping little house this is! Everything so handy!'

He clambered into his bunk and rolled himself well up in the blankets, and slumber gathered him forthwith, as a swathe of barley is folded into the arms of the reaping machine.

The weary Mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously a part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancour. He was now in just the frame of mind that the tactful Rat had quietly worked to bring about in him. He saw clearly how plain and simple—how narrow, even—it all was; but clearly, too, how much it all meant to him, and the special value of some such anchorage in one's existence. He did not at all want to abandon the new life and its splendid spaces, to turn his back on sun and air and all they offered him and creep home and stay there; the upper world was all too strong, it called to him still, even down there, and he knew he must return to the larger stage. But it was good to think he had this to come back to; this place which was all his own, these things which were so glad to see him again and could always be counted upon for the same simple welcome.

And with that, it’s time for our weekly RCV POLL! Last week, we asked readers to rank which issue they think will be at the forefront of political discussions in the 2024 presidential race. You voted abortion access as the top issue!

We’re bringing some holiday spirit to this week’s ranked choice poll, and invite all readers to weigh in: What is your favorite holiday cookie? Click on the image below to vote. 

That’s all for this week! Another edition will be in your inbox next week, but with a fun twist to round out this eighth year of RepresentWomen’s Weekend Reading. 

Sending my warmest wishes for a lovely holiday season of celebration and rejuvenation. The days are already getting longer...

-Cynthia Richie Terrell



Tired of the same old holiday songs on repeat each year? We’ve got you covered! Unwrap joy, laughter, and a sprinkle of feminist magic with our holiday playlist. These tunes are not just making spirits bright; they're celebrating women artists and making waves for equality. 

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