The emergence of the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements, the ascendance of Donald Trump to the Presidency, and the boldness and novelty of the Women’s Marches across the U.S. have thrust many more women into political life. Since returning home to South Bend, Indiana just over two years ago now, I have seen the impact of these phenomena. Yet, throughout the 2018 Midterms, political organizing amongst women in my area has reached uncharted heights. Or, to be fair, at the very least it has reached such heights that I have not seen in my lifetime.
Journalists and data junkies alike are gleefully dissecting the gender gap and what it potentially means for the mid-term elections generally and the political fortunes of women specifically. Number-cruncher extraordinaire, FiveThirtyEight, labelled the 2018 midterm election as “potentially record-breaking,” noting that women are poised to gain 100 Congressional seats this year. If they win, there will be 100 women in the House, and 24 in the Senate come January 2019.
“Grab ‘em by the Midterms.” That now-iconic rally sign efficiently compresses both women’s activist rage at Donald Trump’s attitude toward women’s bodies and women’s commitment to the power of the ballot.
Ours is a contradictory moment for U.S. women. On the one hand, the repressive policies issuing from the Trump-Pence administration have catapulted many women into social justice and electoral activism. On the other hand, we are reminded, repeatedly, that women’s voices are still often dismissed. Witness the testifying of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford and the ultimate dismissal of her claims as Brett Kavanaugh took his seat on the Supreme Court. I draw optimistic lines between women’s leadership in “Resistance” organizations and the uptick in women running for office or actively working to elect those women. This swelling of women’s activism can help address the “ambition gap” that may, in part, explain why fewer women have gotten involved in politics.
By Catherine Bolzendahl
The U.S. is poised to witness unprecedented numbers of women engaging in electoral politics in general, and running for political office in particular. By the April 6, 2018 filing deadline, 309 women filed to run for the U.S. House, at a 90% increase since 2016, and a notable uptick in minority women candidates. Although the actual numbers elected are likely to be much lower, these figures are nevertheless remarkable and suggest the potential of one of the wealthiest capitalist democracies in the world to finally join counterparts with 40% or more women in legislature, such as France (39.6%) and Norway (41.4%) or at least to match the European average at 27.7%. The historical reality of American women’s political office holding is, however, quite bleak. Of all the countries in the world, the U.S. is 103rd in women’s legislative presence with 19.6% women, behind Indonesia, Uruguay, and Pakistan. Furthermore, it is particularly important to disaggregate among women elected or running for office, given that reasons for involvement and the possible influence on policy may be highly dependent on how gender intersects with other minority statuses. As a leading advocate for equity, human rights, and democracy, political outcomes in the U.S. elections rarely reflect the diversity of our citizenry. Thus, the recent news is exciting for scholars like myself, who study and support gender diversity in electoral politics, but a lot of work remains.