Weekend Reading on Women's Representation December 24, 2020

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on December 24, 2020

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My dear friends,
As I look back on 2020 I am mindful of the many challenges we faced as individuals, families, communities, Americans. and global citizens. We will remember those challenges but we will also remember 2020 as the year we celebrated the centennial of suffrage, the year we elected the first woman & woman of color to the vice presidency, and the year we sowed new seeds of progress toward gender balance in politics. 
I'll share just a few highlights from the last week!

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The team at #WomenLead put together this list of memorable examples of women's leadership in 2020:
As we brace ourselves for 2021, we thought we’d leave you with a collection of some of our favourite memories about women in politics from 2020. We’ve picked moments that left us feeling inspired, proud, glad, and sometimes amused. Hope you enjoy this curation - tell us if these were your favourite too, or if we’ve missed any. 

Here’s our list:

  1. When Bolivia’s new Left government created a new ministry for “culture, depatriarchalization and decolonization”, with the aim to eliminate colonialism and male domination, to reverse the inequality between men and women, as well as between nationalities.

Eleanor Goldfield @ActivistEleanor
Bolivia appoints the world's first Minister of Cultures, Decolonization and Depatriarchalization. Sabina Orellana, Indigenous leader, feminist and activist. #LearnFromBolivia #Decolonize #SmashThePatriarchy

November 24th 2020

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  1. When the Swiss Parliament finally relaxed its “antiquated” dress code that banned women from wearing dresses revealing the shoulders and arms. 

Terrific ally Jen Simon, founder of the Wyoming Women's Action Network, wrote a powerful piece on the need to update our attitudes on gender norms:

Our language is full of casual references that reinforce the hierarchy of humans that puts men and boys above the rest of us. “Guys” is our catchall word for any group of people. Chairman is still the official title for committee leaders in our state legislature. Better to be a “tomboy” than to “throw like a girl.”

When we use these terms reflexively — without giving them a second thought — it reinforces that collectively we still value men more than women.

You can see it in sports. The most visible example might be the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. They play more games, win more games, and have more championships than their male counterparts. Oh, and this important point: they also sell more. More tickets and more merchandise, making them a more profitable entity than the US.. Men’s National Soccer Team. Yet they earn considerably less, have smaller bonuses, and train in inferior conditions.

You can see it in movies and TV shows across the culture. There are more offerings that don’t pass what’s known as the “Bechdel Test” than things that do. And the bar of the Bechdel Test is pretty darned low: Are there two women? Do they talk to each other? Do they talk to each other about something other than men?

We routinely — and often inadvertently — privilege what boys do: in language, in sports, in culture. Which stands as a reminder that, despite generations of work for equality, the patriarchy puts its stamp on even the most mundane things that we do. But it’s not just the day-to-day things: it happens in all facets of government, too. Where the stakes are higher.

Even in our calls for smaller government, we deem the police and military to be the “good” functions of government; we talk about them as “protectors” — a word that is coded masculine. Meanwhile, whenever we raise the possibility of state-supported affordable health care, it is derided as “the nanny state.” It isn’t a coincidence that the thing we denigrate is stamped with a feminine term.

That’s played out over the last two weeks as Joint Appropriations worked the supplemental budget.

The Joint Appropriations Committee has 12 men and 0 women right now, a clear indicator of who leadership thinks should be making decisions about the state’s money. (The newly reconstituted Appropriations Committee for the Wyoming 66th will adjust that ratio to 11 men and 1 woman. Meanwhile, the 66th’s Labor, Health & Social Services Committee will have seven men and seven women — proving parity is possible.)

All policy reflects the people we elect; it happens in the budgeting process, too. While there is a lot at stake for everyone and no department was spared in the latest round of budget cuts, discussions about where to cut — and sometimes where to restore — still reflected gendered assumptions.
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Melinda Gates wrote about five of the most interesting conversations she had in 2020 that included Debbie Walsh, CEO of the Center for Women and Politics, and Erin Vilardi, CEO of VoteRunLead:
To get more women in office, help more women run for office

A conversation with Debbie Walsh, Director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University; Tracy Sturdivant, President and CEO of The League; and Erin Vilardi, Founder and CEO of Vote Run Lead

When government becomes more representative, it becomes more responsive. So, in September, ahead of a historic U.S. election, I spoke with Debbie Walsh, Tracy Sturdivant, and Erin Vilardi about their work to get more women into public office.

Debbie set the stage by diving into the data about the women running in 2020. In the 2018 election, women candidates shattered records. Many wondered whether momentum would continue. Debbie’s verdict: Yes, women were again setting records, but there is much more to be done to reach parity. For one thing, women made up less than 30% of the candidates running for Congress in the 2020 elections.

Women made up less than 30% of the candidates running for Congress in the 2020 elections.

Tracy described The League’s use of pop culture to inspire historically excluded communities to engage in the political process. (Connecting politics to culture is important, she says, because “While politics are where people are some of the time, culture is where people are all of the time.”) She is especially focused on reaching women of color to assure them their vote matters and ultimately inspire them to become activists, organizers, and candidates.

As CEO of VoteRunLead, Erin recruits and trains women to run for public office. Erin talked about her candidates’ experience campaigning through a pandemic and described VoteRunLead’s efforts to help candidates spotlight racial justice issues. We also had an interesting conversation about the importance of recruiting women to run for state legislatures—for reasons including the fact it’s a key pipeline to higher office.

Weeks later, as I watched Kamala Harris’ first speech as vice president-elect, I thought back to this conversation. I love seeing women candidates making history. I love meeting the women behind those women, too.
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Representative Carolyn Maloney
 
According to this story in The Washington Post the budget approved this week by Congress includes funding for a women's history museum which Rep. Maloney and others have been working toward for a long time:
“For too long, women’s stories have been left out of the telling of our nation’s history, but with this vote, we begin to rectify that,” Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the primary sponsor of the House bill on the women’s history museum, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Americans of all ages deserve to see and be inspired by the remarkable women who helped shape this nation. Seeing role models doing the thing to which we aspire can change the course of someone’s life. How fitting that we pass this bill as we mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment and in the year in which we elected our first woman vice president.”
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If you are looking for something to watch in the coming week I recommend Borgen the Netflix drama which chronicles a fictitious yet inspirational woman prime minister of Denmark - I found it fascinating and very satisfying.
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The team at RepresentWomen put together a new video explainer on ranked choice voting - I'd be glad to know what you think! And Russell Berman wrote a good piece in The Atlantic on push back on ranked choice voting from a few democrats in NYC who fear they may not be able to win with the system:
A subversion of democracy. A brazen attempt to overturn the will of voters. Modern-day voter suppression. An 11th-hour bid to cling to power.

These are all charges Democrats have leveled against President Donald Trump as he’s challenged the results of the election that will force him from office. They’re all also accusations Democrats have hurled at one another in New York City over the past few weeks, in a bitter fight over how the city’s voters will choose a successor to Mayor Bill de Blasio next year.

A year ago, New Yorkers approved a referendum to use ranked-choice voting for the municipal elections in 2021. It was not a close vote: Ranked-choice voting won by a nearly three-to-one margin, making the Big Apple by far the nation’s most populous jurisdiction to adopt a system that allows voters to list candidates in order of preference rather than just choose one. New York would join Maine and the cities of San Francisco, Oakland, and Minneapolis, among others, in moving to ranked-choice voting. Citizens in Alaska voted last month to approve the format as part of a package of political reforms.

Just two months before the system’s initial test run, however, a group of Democrats opposed to the format—including the majority leader of the New York City Council and the leaders of its Black, Latino, and Asian Caucus—sued to halt the introduction of ranked-choice voting. They drew backing from a prominent mayoral contender, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, in arguing that a city that struggles to administer elections in the best of times was unprepared to educate voters on a complicated new system in the middle of a pandemic.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting see the push to stall its implementation as a thinly disguised attempt by members of the Democratic establishment to thwart a reform that would threaten their grip on power by further opening up New York City’s machine politics to newcomers. It’s particularly galling, they say, given that the city’s electorate endorsed the change so overwhelmingly a year ago. And supporters of ranked-choice voting say that by filing Hail Mary lawsuits and sowing confusion about how the election will be run, opponents of the system are resorting to “Trumpian tactics” to delay, or deny, the will of New York voters.

“You can't make this stuff up,” says Bertha Lewis, a longtime community organizer and the president of the Black Institute, a Brooklyn-based think tank. “It's unbelievable that this quote-unquote progressive city is doing the same thing. How dare you try to overturn what voters have done in a democratic election?”
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We have a few RepresentWomen masks - let me know if you'd like me to send you one!
Happy holidays no matter where or what you may be celebrating!
Cynthia
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P.S. I'll end with my favorite passage from The Wind in the Willows:

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.