Twenty and counting

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 08, 2012 18:50 hrs

pYou may have heard that there are going to be 20 women in the Senate next year I&rsquove been trying to figure out what that means Well it means one-fifth Whoop-di-doppStill up to now there have only been 39 women senators in all of American history In 2001 the entire female caucus published a book about their experiences called Nine and CountingppSo I say look on the bright side In the House 78 women were just elected True that&rsquos still under 20 per cent Nevertheless when it comes to the proportion of women in the lower chamber of its national legislature next year the United States is almost certainly going to soar past the United Arab Emirates and possibly even IndonesiappFeel free to blame the Republicans After the elections the House minority leader Nancy Pelosi pointed out that next session most of the Democratic members will be something other than white men The Democrats named Representative Nita Lowey of New York the ranking member on the Appropriations Committee the chamber&rsquos historic Alpha Dog Central Meanwhile over on the Republican side Speaker John Boehner announced a list of new committee chairs that was entirely um pale male After the ensuing outcry he stuck Representative Candice Miller of Michigan in a vacant top post on the House Administration Committee a panel she had never served onpp&ldquoIn her new post Candice will provide the leadership needed to keep operating costs down save taxpayer dollars and help lawmakers use new technology to better engage with their constituents&rdquo said BoehnerppHaving any committee chairmanship is better than not having one But I believe I speak on behalf of many American women when I say oh good grief But let&rsquos cheerfully return to the fact that there are going to be more women in Congress What does it mean These days the answers are mainly about interpersonal relations than any particular issue &ldquoIt&rsquos not that they&rsquore going to agree on everything&rdquo said Debbie Walsh director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers &ldquoI think in some ways it will be about Will they talk to each other and work with each other on some things and at least be able to communicate with each other&rdquoppShe&rsquos right and while sociability is a pretty low bar this is the Washington in which everyone complains that bipartisan dinner parties are a thing of the past The Senate women most definitely dine together Regularly in the Capitol in a room named after the late Strom Thurmond an infamous pincher of ladies&rsquo bottoms &ldquoI know the irony&rdquo said Olympia Snowe Republican from MaineppBut about the issues There are plenty of veterans who remember the days when women banded together in bipartisan battles on behalf of their sex Lowey pointed to a fight to get the National Institutes of Health to study women as well as men when it did clinical trials &ldquoEven the lab rats were male&rdquoppNow not so much Barely at all as a matter of fact The House women&rsquos caucus did hold some hearings on the question of pay parity but it never took a position on what to do to reduce the wage gap between male and female workers since the Democratic and Republican co-chairs don&rsquot agree on actual bill proposalsppOne of the reasons is the dwindling band of moderate pro-choice Republican women Diversity is always a good thing &mdash if you&rsquove got to have a Tea Party I&rsquod rather not have an all-male one But a female lawmaker who opposes giving poor women access to family planning services is not really playing for the teamppIn the Senate the small band of Republican women has included influential moderates like Snowe Susan Collins also of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska who was forced to run as a write-in when a Tea Party candidate swiped the Republican nomination &ldquoAny time I&rsquove been successful I&rsquove had a woman Republican helping me on the other side of the aisle&rdquo said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New YorkppThe other day Gillibrand proudly noted that every woman in the Senate had supported an amendment to the defence bill she&rsquod sponsored despite Republican opposition In the current session she said &ldquoI think it&rsquos the first thing we all voted on&rdquoppThe amendment would expand treatment for the autistic children of members of the military Really folks you would not think rallying around that one would be all that hard But once again we&rsquore going to celebrate the clearing of a bar rather than pointing out that it&rsquos kind of lowppAnd all but one of the current 17 women voted in favour of ratifying the United Nations treaty on the disabled Although the Senate being the Senate the treaty failedhr pp© 2012 The New York Times News Servicep

More from Sify: