With discussions about US politics being overwhelmingly dominated by what Donald Trump’s next tweet will be, it is refreshing to see the conversation shift towards the up-and-coming women moving into the political arena.
This year there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of female candidates in the November midterm elections for the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Currently, 472 women have filed their candidacies for the House and a further 57 for the Senate, an overall rise of almost 60%. These women are mainly Democrats; however there has also been an increase in female Republican candidates.
A political challenge of this magnitude by women in the US was last seen in 1992, dubbed “The Year of the Woman”, when 24 women (the most in a single election in US history) were elected to the House. Looking at the numbers this time round, the potential for 2018 to be another monumental year for women seems a legitimate possibility. As Talbot evidences in her piece for the New Yorker, the number of women standing is not the only significant thing about the midterms. This group also includes more women of colour and immigrants than previous election years.
Virginia’s recent delegate election is encouraging for the Democratic women standing in the midterms, with 11 men being replaced by women. It was also an election of firsts as these women included the first Latina member of the House, the first Asian American delegate, and the first openly transgender delegate. The surge in Democratic women standing for Congress has been attributed to Trump winning the 2016 Presidential Election, or perhaps to Hillary Clinton losing, and can be viewed as an extension of the mobilisation of women witnessed by the Women’s March.
Obviously, the same argument cannot be made about the rise in women running as Republican candidates, many of who stand with Trump and wish to bolster Republican economic policies. However, Trumps first year in office has been marred by the uprising of the Times Up and #MeToo movement, which has galvanised women to speak up against abuses of power. In conversation with Dorothy Wickenden, Margaret Talbot argues that this increase in the societal awareness of sexual harassment “transcends party lines”. She cites Barbara Comstock as an example of the paradox of a Republican candidate who, despite supporting Trump, has also been speaking up about sexual harassment at Capitol Hill.
Many of the women who have declared their midterm candidacy are overturning the typical notions of women in politics. Instead of appealing to a palatable femininity these women are proud of their gender, running advertisements that include them breastfeeding and openly discussing their experiences of sexism. Furthermore, many of these women have been inspired to run because of their personal experiences of how politics has impacted their professions, bodies, and families.
For example, Gina Ortiz Jones (running as a Democrat in Texas’ 23rd District) is the daughter of an immigrant and a lesbian who served in the Air Force in the time of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’. Or, Kim Schrier (Democratic candidate for Washington’s 8th District), a paediatrician, whose anger and disappointment at her congressman’s decision not to oppose the Obamacare repeal bill drove her to stand. These women are so strikingly opposite to Trump whom, despite his lack of political qualifications, and, arguably, political knowledge, went straight for the top position.
It may be too soon to enthuse about the potential success of Democratic women in November, as the increase in female Republican nominees could in fact be damaging for American women. Many of the Republican women entering the race support Trump’s policies, and the likes of Claudia Tenney, who opposes same-sex marriage, and Catherine Templeton, who wants a total ban on abortion, even in the case of incest, are still in with a chance.
Women are also making changes behind the scenes, with increasing numbers of women becoming campaign managers. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee estimates that 40% of campaign managers for Democratic candidates this year are women. This is incomparable to previous years as the number of female campaign managers has always been small. Taking on this role places women in the position to make crucial decisions and hugely increase representation where it is needed.
The potential influx of women into the political arena which the November midterms could bring will not create a gender balance in Congress. However, it may be the start of restructuring a system, which, as Doyle explains, was not built for women: the Senate pool being for men only and the women’s bathrooms being further from the stage. This week brought about an important change in Senate rules, babies are now allowed on the floor, meaning Senators who are also parents can care for their children while being present to vote. Perhaps all of this is the start of women truly being able to chip away at a political system designed for men. The journey to the November midterms is bound to be a momentous one.
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