Why it matters that we elect more women

By Stephanie Schriock on
March 3, 2011

Every now and then in this job, I get asked why it matters that we elect more Democratic women to Congress, as opposed to more progressives, or just more Democrats.

The obvious answer is gender parity. Women make up an appallingly small 17% of Congress, and girls in America deserve to be able to look up to a representative government.

But the less obvious answer is the one you can see every day in Washington, if you turn on C-SPAN and follow the budget debate. This answer is both troubling – and potentially inspirational, because this answer is: a more representative government leads to policies that represent more Americans, better.

What we’ve seen in abundance since the Republicans took control of the House is that when left to their own devices, Republican men will forgo their promises to create jobs and will instead attack the programs American women rely on to take care of themselves and their families. Whether it makes sense or not.

For weeks, we watched as man after man proposed debilitating and destabilizing cuts that would disproportionally hurt women and their families. And this afternoon, we saw women fight back: Democratic women in the Senate spoke with one voice on the floor of the upper chamber today. And they said clearly, so everyone can understand, that they would stand between American women and the radical anti-woman agenda put forward by John Boehner and House Republicans. They put their foot down and said: stop, no more, not on our watch.

American women need champions in Congress right now. We need to know there are Democratic women who have our backs, because the GOP is doing everything it can to take away our access to health care, our ability to plan and care for a family, and our opportunities to make successful, safe, and healthy lives for ourselves and our families. Women – and men – are speaking out against it. Join us by signing this petition to tell Boehner and the GOP you won’t let them roll back the clock on our rights.

Anyone can make the argument that cutting funding for cancer screenings will undoubtedly cost us countless lives and dollars. We can make the argument that cutting access to family planning hurts women who want to plan families. We can lay out in bar graphs and pie charts how cutting Head Start means paying exponentially more down the road. And we can say that redefining rape to distinguish between “forcible” and otherwise, makes no sense at all.

But the best arguments come from the women who have seized the opportunities Republicans are trying to take away, made the decisions they’re trying to limit, and used the preventative services they’re trying to defund.

Last month, when the notorious “HR 3” bill was debated in House subcommittee – a bill that would dramatically reduce women’s ability to access health care, a bill that attempted to “redefine rape”, a bill that allowed doctors to refuse health care to women facing death – not a single woman sat on the Congressional dais. And a whole lot of bunk went unchallenged.

What a different picture it is when these things are debated on the floor, and Rep. Jackie Speier can calmly tell her male colleague what a difficult pregnancy is really like – demonstrating with devastating calm and dignity how offensive and superficial his position is. When Rep. Gwen Moore can explain that she probably knows a thing or two about caring for black babies, because she’s given birth to three – talking about the real decisions mothers make when the formula runs out before the week does, and the children are still hungry. .

We need to elect more pro-choice Democratic women because we need to ensure that the voice of reason – the voices of women with real experience in the issues being debated – are always present. Not sometimes. Always.

It’s sad that the opposition needs to become this extreme, this nonsensically malicious, this radically anti-woman for the need to elect more Democratic women to be highlighted this sharply. But let’s not let the opportunity pass us by to point it out. If there were more Democratic women in the House, there would be more voices telling Boehner and his band of “young guns” leaders to sit down, don’t try to score political points on the backs of women and children, and focus on jobs like you promised when you were campaigning.

Today, we saw our champions in the Senate make noise as if their numbers were much, much greater. And one day they will be, and we won’t have to have these fights, because Democratic women will never let it get this far. We won’t have to fight back because we’ll be negotiating the terms to begin with. And that’s a future worth fighting for. One seat at a time.

Cross-posted to The Huffington Post.

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