Fifty Percent. 50%. Half.
I hope it’s not news that women comprise fifty percent of our country- and of course our world’s- population. This very simple fact, one should hope, would translate into the equal distribution of power. However, this is not the case and I find it ceaselessly perplexing. The government remains an elite and exclusive club inundated with (white) men. Why are women a minority, when we are not a minority? How can women make rules, when our mere presence is the exception to the rule?
As the Center for American Women and Politics reports, women comprise only 16.8% of the Senate, 24% of state legislatures, and only 6 states have women as governors. Low and behold, the illusions of a representative government that is not a mirror image of its peoples, but of its privileged. This is becoming all the more clear with the “war on women” that we’ve heard and read so much about in the past few months.
While the antics of some politicians (cough Todd Akin, Paul Ryan cough) are understandably distressing, progress is not stagnant and we have some fantastic women and female-allies that are crusading for the substantive participation, the meaningful contribution, of women politicians and women’s interests. This election is an important one, for so many reasons, and so it is momentous that for the first time in 20 years there will be a woman moderating a presidential debate! Candy Crowley, host of CNN’s “State of the Union”, will host the second debate on October 16th. Crowley was celebrated in 2009 by the Women’s Media Center for her outstanding political journalism and exceptional investigative skill. Her selection as a moderator was brought about via a Change.org petition created by three 16-year-olds, Emma Axelrod, Sammi Siegel and Elena Tsemberis, who lobbied the Commission on Presidential Debates to appoint a female journalist. The petition received over 120,000 signatures.
In light of public scrutiny for a gender divide that hadn’t been crossed since 1992, Ms. Crowley was selected, as well as Martha Raddatz, who will moderate one of the Vice Presidential debates. This is a significant step for women politicians, policymakers, journalists and of course the female electorate. This election year women’s issues, such as reproductive health and equal pay for equal work, are critical topics and so it will be interesting to see whether or not these issues are addressed, probed, unpacked and discussed more critically and honestly – and let’s hope intelligently (once again Todd Akin) – with a woman moderator. However, not everyone is confident that women’s interests will be more thoroughly delved into. The New York Time’s political blog, The Caucus, states, “Both Lehrer and Schieffer will moderate the two traditional debates at the highest level. In these debates, the moderator selects the topics and questions. In contrast, Crowley will host the only town-hall style debate in which citizens will ask questions of the candidates and the moderator will “facilitate discussion.” And, as previously noted, Raddatz is hosting the vice-presidential debate. In other words, the two debates between the highest level candidates where the moderator has the most influence and say will still be moderated by men.”
These types of criticisms are important to take note of. But I also find myself torn: I hate always being pessimistic about progress. It seems counterintuitive to the word progress itself, which implies movement, improvement, advancement. Yet on the other hand, it is too easy to take whatever bone is thrown at us and consider it a gift, and that we are so lucky that in 2012 some people came to their senses and decided to invite us to the party. Plus, I feel as though I would be going against my graduate school education if I do not critically think and view such things without a furrowed brow.
So what now? I think it’s important to recognize the worth, the value and the great strides that are being made by Ms. Raddatz and Ms. Crowley. I think they should be applauded for their work and congratulated for their truly honorable appointments. I think any progress, any conversation, any media attention, any shift in our minds and our structures, is a step in the right direction. I think it is fantastic that the issue of marginalization in our politico is being talked about, thought about, and sure, even contested. However, I think it is also important to not be satisfied with something that is not satisfactory. Push more! Appreciate gains that you make, but fight for gains that you deserve. Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch, let’s not be content. But small victories are victories nonetheless. I congratulate Ms. Crowley, Ms. Raddatz, and the three young women who petitioned the Big Man Upstairs. And I hope more – way more – follow suit.
Photo Credit: CNN