James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Women lose ground in Congress for 1st time since 1978

Posted by James McPherson on November 18, 2010

It’s official. Even if Ann Marie Buerkle holds on to her narrow lead in New York, and despite the stunning write-in victory of Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, with the concession of Melissa Bean in Illinois, Congress will see a net loss in the number of female members for the first time since Rosalynn Carter was first lady.

It will also be the first decrease since a year after Indiana became the 35th and last state to ratify the failed Equal Rights Amendment (though one of the fears used to kill the ERA has come to fruition, anyway–we now do have women soldiers being killed in battle).

The United States has a dismal record overall on the percentage of women in its national leadership, ranking about 70th among the world’s nations and trailing such countries as Cuba, Afghanistan and Rwanda. Thirty-one of the 192 U.N. member nations have women at the head of their governments: 10 presidents, 11 prime ministers and three queens.

Of course, the pitiful lack of women in U.S. political leadership merely reflects our record elsewhere in American society. Despite some high-profile gains, with gender–as with race–we obviously have some distance to go.

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9 Responses to “Women lose ground in Congress for 1st time since 1978”

  1. jonolan said

    Even Harvard – hardly Conservatively – admits that women do as well as men in federal elections, all other things being equal (incumbent, etc..).

    There’s just not as many women who want the jobs.

    Your sort always make the same assumption, that these women are being “kept down.” It never occurs to you that a majority of women might just not want the hassles that go along with the “leadership” roles.

    Hell! Most men don’t want those hassles either, but we got caught up in the gender role of provider and ended up with our “worth” being judged by our material wealth and power over others.

  2. James McPherson said

    Thanks, jonolan. I’m not sure what you mean by “your sort,” but in fact I made no argument that women are being “kept down” by anyone (though in some circumstances they are)–simply that they are seriously underrepresented in leadership, which I think is a problem for all of us.

    And a reminder–despite our frequent expressions of American superiority in virtually all things, we rank 70th in the world in this area. I would guess that women in those other 69 countries also “might just not want the hassles that go along with the ‘leadership’ roles.” But they also are more likely to be involved in the local politics that build candidates for those “equal” federal elections.

  3. jonolan said

    Here’s the rub – why is it “dismal” that America has fewer female leaders? Why is the lack of females in leadership positions pitiful? What make female representation in leadership intrinsically good, or at least better than men’s?

    You make the assumption just with your wording of a forced inequality and further claim that inequality is a bad thing. Why?

    If they don’t want the jobs, why should they go for them? There’s little or no factual evidence to support the thought that women are being kept out of leadership roles.

  4. James McPherson said

    “What make female representation in leadership intrinsically good, or at least better than men’s?”

    Not better–but as good and every bit as necessary, I’d argue.

    “There’s little or no factual evidence to support the thought that women are being kept out of leadership roles.”

    I’m not sure I agree, but aside from that–again, I didn’t say they were being “kept out.” I said they ARE out. And that’s a problem, in my view.

  5. jonolan said

    OK, I think I see where you’re coming from.

    Yes, they are out. Is that bad though, if most of them don’t want to be in “in?”

    Loosing any talent is bad; I think we can all agree upon that fact. Yet, is it right to complain if some of those with talent don’t have the same priorities and choose not to exercise their talents in the arenas we might choose for them to.

  6. James McPherson said

    “Is that bad though, if most of them don’t want to be in ‘in?'”

    I think so, not just because of that loss of talent but because of the loss of perspective. Groups that are heavily weighted toward one group (and I’ve been on both sides of some of those, as you probably have), tend to develop a narrow focus and come up with a narrow set of problem-solving solutions than do more diverse groups.

    As many problems as we have in this country, we need all the help we can get. Thanks again.

  7. This is sad, but this is true. I’m a business coach for women and I’ve read somewhere that even in business, women are lagging behind their male counterparts. And I guess there are several reasons that account for this situation. I can enumerate the reasons here but it would take a lot of space. Nevertheless, I think women should start taking charge and develop their potentials. They should not let domestic responsibilities and fear take over them because they too can make it in their endeavors. Thank you for this article . It is very informative.

  8. […] know who said it.) Thinking more about it though, it occurred to me that since I am all for gender equality, I should look at some evidence. I then posted my findings on Facebook, but thought […]

  9. […] here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. Examples relevant to gender here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and […]

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