Over the holiday weekend, we missed Ellen Goodman's latest column on AlterNet. It's a piece worth turning back to, since Goodman throws cold water on our enthusiasm about women's new roles in Congress.
Yes, the new Congress will have the first female speaker of the House, presiding over the highest number of women representatives ever. But that's nothing to get too excited about, according to Goodman: "There's already been a surfeit of talk about the role of women in this election. Alas, this was not The Year of the Women Redux, although Speaker-elect Pelosi has broken the 'marble ceiling' and has the bruises to show for it. Yes, there will be more women in Congress than ever before, but so far the percentage has only gone up from 15.4 to 16.4485981. Hold the applause." Without downplaying Pelosi's achievement, the other numbers are sobering. At this puttering rate, we'll reach gender parity in Congress around when Chelsea Clinton is living out her golden years in a retirement community.
What's more significant than the gains women leaders made in the 2006 elections, Goodman contends, is the role women voters played: "This was, however, the year women provided the Democratic margin of victory. If men had been the only voters in Missouri, Montana or Virginia, we'd have a Republican Senate. This is also the year in which women drove the agenda." According to pollsters, women were "the first to think the war was going sour and first to believe the economy was going downhill. And, at the family heart of the matter, a majority of women unhappily concurred that their children were going to be worse off than they are." Goodman cajoles the new Democratic leaders to remember the women who put them in office, and to pay attention to what women voters said were their top concerns, which, beyond everyone's No. 1 concern -- the war in Iraq -- included healthcare, education, childcare and retirement security.
We'll be watching eagerly to see how effective the new Congress is in delivering on that agenda.