Why should we celebrate women in politics?
Cheers erupted as former Vice President, Joe Biden announced to a crowd of debate watchers that he would “in fact, appoint a woman to be vice president”. Feminists should be celebrating! Women in politics should be praising the former VP! Joe Biden ought to be declared the voice of the feminist movement!
But for what? The bare minimum?
A government representative of the population to which it serves shouldn’t be cause for celebration, but rather, expected. Such an opinion doesn’t exist to discount the strides women have made in a political landscape designed for men, but instead to stress the absurdity of a world in which the success of fully capable people is remarked as a surprise.
To evaluate the significance of such sexism, we must look at the numbers of history. Congresswomen comprise a mere 24% of the current Congress, despite women making up 51% of the population. The United States, a supposed champion of equal rights, has yet to have a female president. The Trump administration currently has four women in its cabinet of fifteen department heads. Even the Obama administration’s cabinet consisted of a mere four women. The Supreme Court has sat only four female justices in its entire history. 10,674 men have served in the U.S. Congress, 110 men have served on the U.S. Supreme Court, 44 men have served as U.S. President, and 48 men have served as U.S. Vice President.
A significant voice in American politics is missing. Too often a body of exclusively men debates reproductive rights and access to contraceptives, weighs in on the gender pay gap, and dismisses other forms of representation in policy decisions that affect everyone–regardless of gender. When women are excluded from such conversations, their experiences and insights are ignored creating massive gaps in legislation. It shouldn’t be an accomplishment for a woman to participate in a policy conversation concerning her own rights to her body and health. It shouldn’t be hard for a young woman to envision herself in positions of power.
Women, however, don’t exist as just small numbers to highlight the problem, they exist as people capable of changing the course of history. Women are too often praised for simply being present in their field with their actual achievements continuously overlooked. Sure, students learn that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, but they don’t learn that she completed Stanford Law School in a quick two years rather than the standard three and championed gender inequality in the law in her decision in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. When students learn of Chief Justice Earl Warren, they hear of the strides made in civil rights under his court rather than his position as the fourteenth man to serve as Chief Justice. A woman being the first to succeed in her field speaks more to her oppression than her achievements. When women are given positions of power after so many years without, it doesn’t prove that women are somehow now able but that they’ve been deprived of such roles for far too long. People don’t get to question if a woman could be president if one has never even been given the opportunity.
Being born into a world familiar with women’s suffrage, reproductive freedom, and a shift in traditional gender roles puts young women in a position to value the accomplishments of past progressives all while criticizing the extent to which they had to go to achieve less than equality. I don’t think it’s necessary to make the argument that women are capable, but the argument against praising men for bare minimum inclusion still stands. Just as it isn’t revolutionary now to think that women deserve the right to vote, it shouldn’t be revolutionary to think a woman can hold a position of power.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg put it best, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn't be that women are the exception”.