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Hoping for more equal representation


Friday, October 19, 2018

Will the spectacle that was the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh spur more women to run for office? We sure hope so. And we don’t necessarily mean just women from the Democratic Party.

Let’s look past the question of whether our newest Supreme Court justice should have been confirmed, and focus on the faces of the Judiciary Committee that was assessing how seriously to take a woman accuser of a male judge.

None of the 11 Republicans and only four of the 10 Democratic members were women. That’s less than 20 percent, although our population is a bit more than half women. It would seem that under our federal Constitution, all men are created equal — but considerably more equal than women.

This male dominance of our government institutions has been giving way to equity between the sexes since the ‘60s and the rise of feminism, but painfully slowly. 

The cause of equal representation for women got a boost in 1991 after a then entirely male Judiciary Committee’s shabby treatment of Anita Hill, who had levied charges of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Justice Clarence Thomas. Afterward, many woman across the nation were inspired to run for public office – including women like now retired state Rep. Ellen Story, an Amherst Democrat who became the first woman to become part of the western Massachusetts legislative delegation.

“In the year that I ran, the number of women in the Senate doubled — from two to four,” Story told a gathering of the women recently.

Today, there are 23 women among the 100 U.S. senators.

“That’s pretty typical,” she told the women’s club. In Massachusetts, about one-fourth of the state legislators are women, but still not the 50 percent we should expect. Story said about one-fourth of city mayors are women and there are only six women governors in the country – a total of 12 percent.

Closer to home, Orange has one woman among four selectboard members, and Athol two in five. 

At the Statehouse level, things are likely to improve. With the expected Nov. 6 midterm election wins of Jo Comerford and Natalie Blais for state Senate and House, the Franklin County and North Quabbin region could wind up with two-thirds of its legislative delegation being women, if incumbents Rep. Susannah Whipps and Sen. Anne Gobi are re-elected.

Story says now is an exciting time for women, as more women than ever are running, and she encouraged women run, arguing that political leaders are self-made not born, that they need simply push themselves into the public domain.

“We think we don’t have the credentials or qualifications to do these things. But nobody does — at the beginning,” she said.

The Franklin County chapter of the League of Women Voters began in direct response to the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump, who has made so many misogynistic and disparaging remarks about women. And now there’s a strong likelihood that more women will move into politics as a result of the president, his newest high court choice and the actions of the Senate  judiciary committee.

If that happens, it will be sad that it took maltreatment of women to get us here, but gratifying that we are making progress, if not fast enough.

If more women win their races this year and in 2020, and beyond, and we get closer to 50-50 representation, that will be a good thing — for all of us.


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