100 Years Laters, Where Are Women?

Women won the right to vote 100 years ago this week. But they still haven’t won their rightful place in elected office in North Carolina. That hurts all of us, especially in these trying times.

Where do we stand?

A recent report ranked North Carolina 35th nationally in women’s political participation and gave the state a letter grade of D. The report ranked North Carolina 43rd in women in elected office. It said women are half of North Carolina’s population, but only 25 percent of the state legislature. 

The report, “The Status of Women in North Carolina: Political Participation,” was issued by the N.C. Council for Women and Youth Involvement and the Washington-based Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The share of women in the General Assembly peaked in 2008 at 27 percent, but has fallen since Republicans took the majority in 2010.

Deborah Ross, who is running for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District seat, tweeted:

“Representation matters. Women in NC hold only a third of statewide elected positions & women representing NC in the House decreased from 23.1% to 15.4% in the last five years. We need more women in office & we need more women to vote.”

This year, none of the candidates in three marquee races – U.S. Senator, Governor and Attorney General – are women. But women are running for two top offices, Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice.

Why does it matter?

This isn’t just an issue of statistical fairness. It’s about whether our elected officials truly understand what people are going through. If they don’t understand, how can they know what to do?

A friend brought this reality home to me. She pointed out that most people on the frontlines of both the Covid crisis and the economic crisis are women: healthcare workers, teachers, restaurant wait staffs, store clerks, you name it.

At home, it’s mothers who bear most of the burden of working, paying the bills, running the household and making sure the kids do their remote schoolwork.

It’s not just that those women would benefit from more women in office. Men would benefit too. Female politicians are more likely to have that invaluable quality of empathy â€“ for men as well as women. The men on the frontlines – healthcare workers, teachers, restaurant wait staffs, store clerks, truck drivers, custodians and fathers at home – would benefit from women in office who understand their struggles.

That empathy would also help heal our racial tensions right now.

Why aren’t more women in high office?

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said during the Democratic presidential race last year that “Women are held to a higher standard.”

Brianna Wu, a Democratic candidate for Congress in Massachusetts, put it this way: “The men are given the most generous interpretation possible about who they are and what they want to do, and the women are held to the most skeptical, cynical standard possible.”

When Senator Elizabeth Warren briefly led the Democratic race last year, she faced questions about whether she was “too angry” or “likable enough.”

Shades of Hillary Clinton.

Clearly, there’s voter bias against women. In 2019, an Ipsos/USA Today poll found that 84% of people who planned to vote in Democratic primaries said they would be “comfortable with a woman president.”

Sounds fine, right? No, because 5% said they weren’t comfortable and 11% wouldn’t say they’re comfortable. That’s 1 in 6 voters in the Democratic Party, which prides itself on welcoming women candidates, who aren’t willing to say they’re comfortable with a woman President.

Only 33% of all likely voters thought “their neighbors” would be comfortable with a female president. That’s a sly polling way to get at hidden bias.

Is there media bias against women? That’s hotly debated. But there should be no debate over bias in social media. The misogyny there is nauseating.

Maybe the stumbling block is perceived bias against women. Women look at what happened to Hillary Clinton in 2008 and 2016 – and to Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008 – and see a hostile climate.

The fact that Clinton lost to Donald Trump isn’t exactly encouraging.

Who is running this year?

While the top of the ballot in North Carolina this year is heavily male, there are more women down the ballot.

Yvonne Lewis Holley, a Black woman, is the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. If she wins, she’ll be positioned to run for Governor in 2024.

Yvonne Lewis Holley

A Black woman, Cheri Beasley, was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by Governor Roy Cooper, and she’s running this year to hold the seat. Democrat Lucy Inman and Republican Tamara Barringer are also running for Supreme Court.

Five candidates for Council of State seats are Democratic women: incumbent Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, incumbent Auditor Beth Wood and Jen Mangrum (Superintendent of Public Instruction), Jenna Wadsworth (Commissioner of Agriculture) and Jessica Holmes (Commissioner of Labor).

Today, three members of the Council of State are women: Marshall, Wood and Commissioner of Labor Cherie Berry.

Two Democratic women are running for Congress, Ross in the 2nd District and Patricia Timmons-Goodson in the 8th. Only two of the state’s 13 congressional districts are represented now by women.

A number of women are running for the legislature. They’ll wield gavels and power, especially if Democrats take the House and Senate.

North Carolina has led the way before. In the last decade, we elected two female U.S. Senators, Elizabeth Dole and Kay Hagan, and a female Governor, Bev Perdue.

Now we’ve fallen behind. We have a long way to go. And we will all be better off if we do better.

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