Women held record gains, influence in election

On November 6, most Americans focused their attention on the presidential election results. However, many state and congressional races also will influence the next four years. The Gender Report has previously looked at the influence of women in politics, notably the lack of women in elected office.This year, those numbers are starting to improve.

A Washington Post multimedia project highlights the female senators and their projected significance in governance. Click the image to go to this project.

The 2012 election brought a record-number of women to office; 1 in 5 senators are now female (a gain of 3 seats), and the first Asian American, as well as openly gay, women were elected to represent Hawaii and Wisconsin, respectively. A Washington Post multimedia project highlighted the female senators and their projected significance in governance. In addition, New Hampshire became the first state to elect an all-female delegation, including the only female democratic governor. In the House of Representatives, 77  seats will be held by women (a gain of four representatives).

Presidential Influence

Despite their gains for their own seats and victories, much of the media coverage of the election instead focused on the influence of female voters on the top of the ticket. According to research from the Huffington Post, for the first time in research dating to 1952, a presidential candidate whom men chose decisively – Republican Mitt Romney – lost. While Obama’s victory was attributed partly to high minority turnout and support, he won the female vote 54 to 45 nationally and also in every swing state(compared to his 56 to 43 showing in 2008). In one Washington Post article, female supporters of Gov. Mitt Romney said they couldn’t trust him to be true to his campaign promises, an issue women voters consider more signficant than their male counterparts. Gallup polling has tracked the gender gap since 1952, and said this year’s gender divide was 20 percentage points, the largest ever using its method of calculation.

The Huffington Post called 2013 the “New Year of the Woman.” For the time being, the most attention will be on Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the role she will play in the upcoming deficit deliberations in Congress.

Also of note was the loss of two male candidates who made incendiary comments about rape and women’s health in the weeks leading up to the election. Rep. Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, both republicans, made headlines for their separate comments about “legitimate rape” and abortions being god-sent, and were both defeated. Some analysts attribute the nationalized attention to their comments to the already debated “war on women” of the republican party.


Gender Check 8/10/11 – Northeast

*Gender Checks are quick examinations of gender representation in individual news articles for the purpose of discovering trends over time. Click here to read more.

Website: The New York Times

On The New York Times, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 10 a.m.. EST on Wednesday, August 10 was titled “U.S. Stocks Resume Their Slide After a One-Day Rally.” Its subject was the continuing uncertainty in the economy after the debt ceiling deal and credit rating decision.

Here is its gender breakdown:

Authors: Female and Male (shared by-line)

Human sources  (listed in order mentioned):

  1. Female – fund manager
  2. Male – french finance minister
  3. Male – Japanese bank governor (from public statements)
  4. Male – German economist

Website: ProPublica

On ProPublica, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 10 a.m. EST on Wednesday, August 10 was titled “Why Looming Budget Battles Might Still Shut Down the Government.” Its subject was

Here is its gender breakdown:

Author: Female

Human sources  (listed in order mentioned):

  1. Male – Congressional scholar
  2. Female – Congressional scholar

Notes/analysis: This story used two sources to get varied opinions about the future of specific government agencies. At least some of the information came from e-mail correspondence.

Michele Bachmann shies away from image as “feminist” frontrunner

Image from http://www.michelebachmann.com home page

As the primaries for the 2012 Republican nomination come into full swing, one candidate stands out in the race not necessarily for her positions or her politics, but for her gender.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann officially announced her candidacy last week, and subsequently dominated the week’s news cycle, a considerable amount of which focused on her specific role as the only female candidate in the GOP race, and if nominated, the first female nominee for president from a major political party.

Many news sites focused on finding a label for Bachmann’s approach to politics, repeatedly asking her if she considers herself a feminist. Bachmann “demurred” from the question from the Washington Post, saying  “I consider myself a woman, an accomplished woman,” she said. She noted that many men are energized by her candidacy, and added that there is a fascination with a female presidential hopeful because of its novelty.”

But some think Bachmann could hold a unique demographic by embracing the dicey “f” word of politics. The LA Times said the word could “be the most polarizing label on the sociopolitical stage.” However, A CNN article speculated she would “cringe” away from the title, but went on to comment that her self-defined brand of “evangelical feminism” could be exemplified in her candidacy, which she has referred to as her calling from God.

Also of interest to the media’s exploration of Bachmann’s candidacy was the role of her husband, specifically in their “fundamentalist patriarchal model of marriage” as described by a Slate columnist. Though POLITICO described Marcus Bachmann as “enthusiastically embracing” his wife’s run, the article went on to say he could be more of a political liability than other spouses of candidates. The Gender Report has previously covered the role of spouses in political campaigns, and found similar pressures and vetting in other candidacies.

And Bachmann is not the only one responsible for raising the visibility and participation of women in Republican politics. POLITICO reported on a group of freshmen GOP congresswomen who don’t “neatly fit the traditional model of women” who typically run for office and are working to combat views that the Democratic party better represents the female constituency. But even in this group, only one, Rep. Renee Ellmers, of the nine women featured identified herself as a feminist. Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the youngest of the freshmen women, said she “doesn’t easily accept” the feminist label; she called herself instead pro-woman, just like I’m pro-family, just like I’m pro-man.” Currently Democratic female representatives hold 64 seats in the House, compared to the 29 Republican seats.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Kristen E. Gillibrand, who filled Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s vacated seat in 2009, is also working to elevate women’s role in political activism. Her organization, Off the Sidelines, recruits and raises money for female candidates. The New York Times said Gillibrand “epitomizes the ways in which women are asserting themselves in politics these days. “

No doubt as this primary season unfolds, Bachmann’s gender and role, or denial thereof, as a candidate advancing the position of women will extend beyond just this initial coverage, and we hope her candidacy will continue to push women from all ideologies to involve themselves in American political discourse.

For more statistics and studies on women in politics, check out the Center for American Women in Politics to find statistics and information from Rutgers University.

Weiner resigns, highlights gender differences in political performance

The past week’s events in politics have brought a new attention to the presence, or lack thereof, of women in political positions.

Anthony Weiner, who resigned this week from Congress after his lewd online behavior became public, was just the latest male politician to be criticized for inappropriate sexual behavior while in office. His announcement followed the tails of former presidential candidate John Edwards’ criminal trial for his alleged use of campaign funds to cover up his affair in 2008. The Gender Report also has covered the actions of former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and IMF chair Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Several news commentators used the latest scandal to point to gender differences in politicians’ actions and approaches to their elected offices. The New York Times reported that women in the House introduce more bills, participate more vigorously in key legislative debates and give more of the one-minute speeches that open each daily session. In 2005 and 2006, women averaged 14.9 one-minute speeches; men averaged 6.5. Kathryn Pearson, the researcher behind this data, commented that “ women in Congress are still really in a situation where they have to prove themselves to their male colleagues and constituents. There’s sort of this extra level of seriousness.”

The Associated Press reported that voters believe female elected officials are more likely to focus on their jobs and less prone than men to distraction or scandal.

Women currently hold 16.6 percent of the 535 seats in Congress and 23.5 percent of the seats in state legislatures. There are 6 female governors; of the 100 big-city mayors, 8 are women. Looking ahead to the 2012 presidential race, Rep. Michele Bachmann is currently the only female candidate for the GOP.

The New York Daily News commented that Weiner’s scandal actually could help female candidates who may run for his vacated seat, because they could capitalize on voters seeing all male candidates as having the potential for another scandal or inappropriate behavior while in office.

Other reports pointed to underlying gender differences in sexualized behavior that happens regardless of the person leading a public or private life. Virginia Rutter, writing for CNN,  noted that Americans gravitate towards political sex scandals as another manifestation of men’s exploitation of power and the victimization angle of the women involved. A Washington Times article spoke to some of the women involved with Weiner online who say the disagree with the victim-like labels. At this time only one of the women he messaged or contacted online has been identified as a minor.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm told the AP  women succeed in office in part because they bring many “traditionally female” qualities to the job like a willingness to build consensus and seek solutions rather than fights.

“Men in power get a lot more attention from the opposite sex than women do. The temptation of that, the flattery, the ego is more pervasive as a result… Women in office typically don’t have men coming onto us. We’re so busy trying to get the family together, multitasking and getting the job done.”

This is the Gender Report’s Week in Review, a weekly post that highlights some of the major stories related to gender issues this week. Some of these stories may have already appeared in our News Feed or in the week’s Gender Checks. We’ll at times include a longer analysis of stories as well as bring attention to stories that may have slipped through the cracks of the week’s news cycle.

Gender Check 4/20/11 – Northeast

*Gender Checks are quick examinations of gender representation in individual news articles for the purpose of discovering trends over time. Click here to read more.

Website: The New York Times

On The New York Times, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 8:30 a.m. EST on Wednesday, April 20 was titled “Ohio County Losing Its Young to Painkillers’ Grip.” Its subject was a former industrial town that has been hit with deaths due to drug overdoses.

Here is its gender breakdown:

Author: Female

Human sources  (listed in order mentioned):

1. Male – state governor (from public statement)

2. Male – police chief

3. Female – nurse

4. Male – father

5. Female – mother

6. Male – counselor

7. Female – mother

8. Male – state assemblyman

9. Female – spokeswoman for the governor

Notes/analysis: The photo accompanying the story pictured three victims of drug overdosing, all male.

Website: ProPublica

On ProPublica, one of the lead articles featured on the home page as of 8:30 a.m. EST on Wednesday, April 20 was titled “Fracking Chemicals Cited in Congressional Report Stay Underground.” Its subject was the injection of chemicals into the ground by gas drillers.

Here is its gender breakdown:

Author: Male

Human sources  (listed in order mentioned):

1. Female – policy analyst (from an earlier ProPublica story)

2. Male – spokesman (from an email)

Notes/Analysis: Most of this story came from the Congressional report as well as former coverage of the topic by ProPublica.