By Corinna Barnard
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
GOP women are coming out of the woodwork and challenging Democrats' double-X dominance. But the game for political women is still more noise than transformative numbers. Corinna Barnard's editorial kicks off Women's eNews' upcoming campaign coverage.
But these women--whatever their political positions--are still challenging the male grip on politics, with sometimes unpredictable effects.
In Nevada, Reid battled Angell on the topic of domestic violence, claiming that he was a more stalwart champion of women's safety. Would that have happened if the Republicans had nominated a man?
In California, a nurses' group is backing its attorney general, Jerry Brown, against Meg Whitman, seeing him--the guy--as more likely to stand up for them, a female-dominant work force.
It's the polarizing ying-yang that comes with politics, which is not, after all, a controlled laboratory experiment. You don't pour more estrogen in here and necessarily come out with day-care-for-all there.
These are hard, divisive times and the women who join this year's political fray mirror that.
This is probably not the election to bring us closer to the transformative "critical mass" of women in higher public office.
For now, the battles for affordable health care, day care, senior care, jobless benefits and environmental safety--the nurturing agenda--remain just that, battles.
All the women who are out there running their hard races are changing the overall political dance steps, just by being there.
The Palin cohort may seem machista, but that's not where their influence ends. Arguably it's not even where it begins.
Palin may seem, in many ways, like the polar opposite of Hillary Clinton, politically speaking. But Clinton could also be seen as her political patroness. Would John McCain have tapped Palin for the No. 2 spot if the Democrats hadn't just showcased a dazzling multicultural, male-female power struggle? Doubtful.
When female politicians attack the traditional bloc of women's issues--the social safety net--they also open the floor for male politicians to move in new directions.
If a female rival attacks school lunch and child care subsidies for hard-pressed single mothers, her male rival no longer has to fear that supporting these programs might somehow make him seem soft and womanly.
The political rules change. Men can decide that they're the ones to champion day care and work-family balance.
It's like the counter-intuitive polarity of Richard Nixon, the hardliner on communism, "opening" the United States to China.
At current rates of progress, the Inter-Parliamentary Union estimates that women's global legislative representation will not reach 30 percent until 2025 and it won't reach parity until 2040.
This year's Tea Party female politicians oppose many things that are conventionally termed women's rights.
But if they attract more women to the game--via inspiration or opposition--they could move us closer to the long-term goal of parity, and possibly faster than anything else we could dream up.
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Corinna Barnard is editor of Women's eNews.
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