Since the first Congress, 11,699 people have served in the House or Senate. Of these, 259—just about 3 percent—have been women.
Thankfully, the times are changing, but the numbers bring both good and not-so-great news.
As reported by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, just under 300 women indicated their intent to run by filing candidacies for House and Senate seats in the 2010 midterm elections. Of the 298 women candidates, 36 filed for the Senate, 262 for the House.
The Huffington Post reported in June that 2,300 people filed to run for Congress in this political season. So in a country where women are the majority, men still dominate the race for elective office, by a margin of roughly 7 to 1.
When you think about it, it’s not really surprising. It’s been reported that women often hold full-time jobs and rear families while seeking office—generally without the benefit of a wife at home to help keep the many balls in the air.
Now that the primaries are history, we see that about half of the declared women candidates survived to gain a major party line on the ballot. A total of 153 women with major-party backing are running for Congress. Who are these candidates? A breakdown of women running for Congress in 2010, as compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics gives us the following group profile:
- 36 women filed for Senate seats: 19 Democrats, 17 Republicans (besting the previous record, set in 1992, of 29: 22 Democrats, 7 Republicans)
- 14 women won primaries: 9 Democrats, 5 Republicans
- One woman (Lisa Murkowski) is running as a write-in candidate
- 6 are incumbents: 5 Democrats, 1 Republican (again, Lisa Murkowski, the write-in candidate)
- 5 are candidates for open seats: 2 Democrats, 3 Republicans
- 4 are challengers: 2 Democrats, 2 Republicans
- 1 Senate race in California has two women vying against each other: Barbara Boxer (D) and Carly Fiorina (R)
2010 U.S. House of Representatives races. Currently 73 women (56 Democrats, 17 Republicans) serve in the House, along with 3 delegates from the District of Columbia, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (all are Democrats).
- 262 women filed for House seats: 134 Democrats, 128 Republicans (again beating the previous 1992 record of 222: 140 Democrats, 82 Republicans)
- 138 won their primaries: 91 Democrats, 47 Republicans
- 13 House races have two women going head-to-head
A quick glance at gubernatorial races shows that 37 states will elect governors this year. A record-tying 10 of them have women running on one of the major parties’ tickets: 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans. Still, of the 74 major-party gubernatorial candidates, fewer than a seventh are women. Two states, New Mexico and Oklahoma, will have a woman governor for the first time: both major party candidates are women.
These statistics give us a sense how much ground women have claimed in the political landscape, and how much further we have to go. But there’s one more question to focus on, and that’s age.
It’s interesting to note that the average age of all members in Congress is 57.2: for men, it’s 57.3, for women, 57.1. Not much of a difference there.
If we take the incumbent senate races as representative of congressional races in general, we see that ‘women who weren’t born yesterday’ have no fear of the political trenches and plenty of energy for the battles to be waged there.
Five of the six the women incumbents running for Senate are over 50. Barbara Boxer (D-California) is 69. (Her opponent for Senate, Carly Fiorina, is 54). Incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) is 50. Patty Murray (D-WA) is 52. Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), the much-watched write-in candidate and senate incumbent from Alaska, is 53. Seniority in this group belongs to Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), who is 74. (The whippersnapper is New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, age 43).
Of course, the Senate is regarded, rightfully or not, as requiring a bit more gravitas than the House, and the age requirement for candidacy is 30 in comparison to the House’s 26. So perhaps the balance is skewed a bit more toward the gray-haired, though probably not by much.
What we can see from 2010 so far is that women are running in greater numbers than ever. And even though women are not taking up political candidacy to the same extent as men (and oh, how we wish they did!), the brave are paving the way for all women—especially those looking to affirm that youth is not a prerequisite to success, and that age more than holds its own when the rubber hits the road of responsibility.
That’s the story on women candidates in 2010. But there’s one more group to focus on, and that’s women voters. Most of us are not running for office this year, but few of us have an excuse for not stepping into the voting booth on November 2 and checking the boxes for the candidates we believe are the best for the job. With luck, at least some of those candidates are women. And with support from all of us, they’ll be on the ballot in even greater numbers in 2012.
I recently came up with an idea: that it would be revelatory to ask as many women who were willing to “nominate” our next world leaders to choose who, among women, they’d put forward to lead the world. This seems more apt than ever, given last week’s decision by the Supreme Court, which may guarantee even more corporate sponsorship of our elected officials.
Is your present Supreme Court not delivering on its promise to you as a U.S.citizen, in its responsibility to adjudicate, interpret and set in place the law of the land, according to the Constitution?
For example, do you think that ExxonMobil, Inc. or General Electric qualify as “persons”? A person who might, say, end up standing with you in the unemployment line? Who might hold your hand with its own “human” mitts when your health insurance claim is denied by other corporations called big insurance companies (who are, according to the Court, “people” too)? Do you think EXXON or AIG or (name any other big corporation) will place their little flesh-paws over the hand that rocks the cradle?
Before we cue the violins to play Barbra singing “People Who Need Corporate People,” how about this: a little speculation about another kind of Nine? Another kind of court: worldwide, and populated by women. Not corporate faux-protoplasm propping up those already in power, but living women, nominated by other women. They just might come up with some new ways to interpret what it is to be human, and what it means to take responsibility for saving the world.
At dinner one night, I tried on the idea with WVFC co-founder Laura Baudo Sillerman and a few others. Then I asked a few more women, then a few more, and finally published the first names on the Huffington Post. I’m hoping that many more women will weigh in. My assistant, Diana Arterian, and I will tabulate the results. Then, on this page and elsewhere, we’ll announce THE NINE, an “international court” of nine women who could spin the world back on its axis and maybe even save us.
What do you think? Is it time for us to start imagining a new kind of world, since this one ain’t working? Is it time for us to try a different approach — say, give the other gender a chance at running things?
Most of the handful of women I polled, of all ages, would like to see women given a chance at piloting the ship for a while. We’ve had men in the majority in just about every area of governance and power — everywhere on the planet. If women were in charge, would things improve? How about The Nine, an international court of women, enlightened governance?
Please respond by nominating one or two or nine women who you think could take charge and give us a chance to save ourselves and the planet. At a certain point, I’ll tally the results to see who The Nine are, but we are not so interested in how many votes any single “candidate” gets as which names appear.
By the way, here are just a few of the names I’ve gotten so far. (We’ve added links to WVFC stories when possible, and Wikipedia when not. — Ed.) So add your votes for them as well, if you like — and still, please, give us at least one more.
UPDATE: Nominations for Nine Women to Run the World will be considered complete on February 14, 2010. If you have not yet “cast your vote” – please do it soon!
- Hillary Clinton (Secretary of State, U.S.)
- Michelle Obama (First Lady, U.S.)
- Mary McAleese (President, Ireland)
- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (President, Liberia)
- Barbara Boxer (U.S. Senator, California)
- Ariana Huffington (Journalist, Activist, Founder, Huffington Post)
- Margaret Thatcher (Former Prime Minister, U.K.)
- Victoria Donda (Argentinian Politician)
- Melinda French Gates (Philanthropist)
- Shirin Ebadi (founder, Center for Human Rights in Iran)
- Sheila Bair (chair, FDIC)
- Elizabeth Warren (Law Professor)
- Anousheh Ansari (Business Entrepreneur)
- Esther Dyson (Journalist, Philanthropist)
- Adrienne Rich (Poet)
- Azar Nafisi (Author, Professor)
- Sylvia Earle (Oceanographer)
- Sandra Day O’Connor (Former Supreme Court Justice, U.S.)
- Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel Laureate, Activist, Myanmar)
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Supreme Court Justice, U.S.)
- Isabel Allende (Author, Activist)
- Caroline Kennedy (Philanthropist, Author)
- Jane Goodall (Anthropologist, Author)
- Toni Morrison (Nobel Laureate, Author)
- Wislawa Szymborska (Nobel Laureate, Poet)
- Noor al-Hussein (Queen of Jordan, Philanthropist)
- Sonia Sotomayor (Supreme Court Justice, U.S.)
- Kathleen Sebelius (U.S. Government Official)
- Maria Shriver (First Lady, California, Author)
- Mary Robinson (Former President, Ireland)
- Fran Pavley (Environmentalist, Activist)
- Gloria Steinem (Journalist, Activist)
- Nadine Strossen (Lawyer, Former President of the ACLU)
- Amy Lehman (Doctor, Activist)
- Karen Armstrong (Author)
- Edwidge Danticat (Author, MacArthur Fellow, Haitian)
- Oprah Winfrey (Television Talk Show Host, Philanthropist)
- Eve Ensler (Author, V-Day Founder)
- Marsha Moss (Public Art Curator)
- Rachel Maddow (Rhodes Scholar, Public Health Ph.D., MSNBC host).
- Maxine Singer (Biochemist, Former President, Carnegie Institute)
- Madeleine Albright (Former U.S. Secretary of State)
- Martha Coakley (Attorney General, Massachusetts)
- Patricia Strachen (Editor)
- Vandana Shiva (Physicist, Philosopher, Eco Feminist, Activist, and Author)
- Medha Patkar (Social Activist)
- Hu Shuli (Journalist)
- Esther Dyson (Journalist, Philanthropist)
- Margaret Wheatley (President of the Berkana Institute)
- Vicki Flaugher (Entrepreneur)
- Dr. Jane Lubchenco (Sec. of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Admin.)
- Reverend Alexia Salvatierra (Exec. Dir. of Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice of California)
- Dr. Holmes Hummel (Dept. of Energy)
- Alisa Gravitz (Founder of Green America)
- Sheila Kuehl (Former U.S. Senator and Assemblywoman)
- Constance “Connie” Rice (Civil Rights Activist, Lawyer)
- Kavita Ramdas (Head of the Global Fund for Women)
- Louise Arbour (Former UN Human Rights High Commissioner and Canadian Supreme Court Justice)
Please add your nomination. Nominate your mother, your sister, your mentors and neighbors. Just let us know in the comments section below. Who should we be following?
Thanks for adding a name — even your own.
Carol Muske-Dukes, Poet Laureate of California, is a novelist, the author of seven books of poetry, and an essayist and activist. She also writes for The New York Times Op-ed page and book reviews, and is a former poetry columnist for the LA Times. Ms. Muske-Dukes is a founding Director of the Ph.D. Program in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California, where she is a professor. Join her California Poet Laureate project, The Magic Poetry Bus: http://magicpoetrybus.org!
Last week, we introduced you to the newest women in the Senate as well as those who began serving late in the Clinton Administration. This week, we get to have–dare we say–a senior moment with the women who have been serving in the senate long enough to wield power on their committees, from recently re-elected third-termers Susan Collins and Mary Landrieu to the women who were there when Anita Hill spoke, including the Lioness of the Senate, Barbara Mikulski.
Susan Collins (56, R-ME) worked for Maine Senator William Cohen from 1975-1987, then ran for and won his seat when he retired in 1996; in November, she was re-elected to a third term with over 61% of the vote. Collins had originally promised to serve only two terms, but told the Lewiston Sun-Journal in 2006 that she would run for a third term because "I've found that I really underestimated the importance of seniority…. At the time, I thought that 12 years, that two terms, would be enough. This was at the height of what I would call the frenzy over term limits."