In the wake of the 2014 election, a record number of women have been elected to Congress but academics question their historical significance. “These victories undoubtedly represent important milestones for women’s representation,” Jennifer Lawless, head of American University’s Institute on Women and Politics, told Time magazine’s Jay Newton Small. “But upon closer inspection, the 2014 midterm elections hardly amounted to a ‘Year of the Woman.’”
“These are really incremental gains,” Kelly Ditmar, a scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for American Women and Politics, said to Small. “While we’re excited to welcome new women to Congress, the numbers aren’t increasing in any significant pace forward.”
“The trend is almost stagnating.”
“Last night was a landmark for women,” Emily Zanotti wrote on the American Spectator blog the day after the election. “More women will serve in this next Congress than have ever before. And of those women, we can count the youngest female to ever be elected to national office, Republican Elise Stefanik, who took the open seat in New York’s 21st, and the first black Republican Congresswoman, Mia Love, elected in Utah.”
When five liberal Democratic senators were elected in 1992, pundits gleefully proclaimed it the year of the woman. Yet their arrival in the Senate, along with that of 24 female freshmen representatives, brought the total number of women in Congress to about 60, or little more than half of what it is today. “A defining moment of change was the general election of 1992 dubbed the ‘Year of the Woman,’ “the official House of Representatives web site proclaims. “The arrival of 28 new women in Congress resulted from the confluence of historic circumstances that have not recurred since.”
So why did the congressional gains of the women who ran successful campaigns to serve in the national legislature not elicit the same enthusiastic response that elites greeted the 1992 victors with? The official House site claims that in that earlier election, “the doubling of the number of women in Congress virtually overnight had far-reaching effects on the way women were perceived in the institution.”
This year, “First of all, 100 is a net add of just one seat in the 113th Congress with the special election of Democrat Alma Adams in North Carolina on Tuesday night,” Small notes. “The 113th started with 99 women nearly two years ago: 20 in the Senate and 79 in the House.”
“For the 114th session starting in January, the very best estimated outcome is a net increase of five seats, assuming all four women in too-close-to-call elections win those races. Still outstanding in the Senate is Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu’s Dec. 6 run off. If she wins, the total number of women in the Senate will go up by one to 21. If she loses the 114th Senate will not have net gained any women from the 113th.” Note the two he chose to highlight.
Zanotti may have happened upon a more plausible explanation of why elites downplayed the gains women made on November 4, 2014. “If you were a woman of Democratic sensibilities, you weren’t so lucky,” she asserted. “Wendy Davis got clobbered in the Texas gubernatorial race, as expected, and even Sandra Fluke lost by a 2 to 1 margin. But congratulations are definitely in order for notorious pig-castrator, Joni Ernst, who became Iowa’s first female Senator, and Susanna Martinez, who was re-elected governor of New Mexico, among many others. Except none for Kay Hagan.” (Hagan, the outgoing Democratic Senator from North Carolina, lost her reelection bid.)
“Not only did women see electoral victories, but it seems they’ve finally turned the tide in the War on Women itself.” For yet another perspective on the “war on women,” you might check out Accuracy in Academia’s Conservative University course on the subject.