Women in Government: Progress, but Still a Struggle

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Truman Cabinet Room (Image: National Archives and Records Administration)

Editors note: For International Women’s Day (March 8), Post Alley features this overview of recent progress by women in national politics and the fights for Neera Tanden and Deb Haaland in Joe Biden’s cabinet.

This year, the nation is observing a very different Women’s History Month in both positive ways and distressing ones. No question that there’s much to celebrate when looking at the numbers of women in office. Starting with Vice President Kamala Harris at the top, there are more women than ever in the U. S. Congress (a quarter of the 538 members); many more women in our state legislatures and courthouses. 

Twelve of President Biden’s 28 cabinet and senior adviser picks are women; seven of them minorities, and gender equity doesn’t stop there. The White House is staffing a Gender Policy Council led by co-chairs Julissa Reynoso and Jennifer Klein. It will have representation in all offices and agencies across the administration.

Biden’s all-female communication team with Jen Psaki as press secretary will be speaking to an ever more diverse and female Washington press corps. Women, too, have recently been swept into leadership roles at major TV and radio networks.

That’s stunning news. What’s not as laudable is what’s happening elsewhere on the national stage. Take the Senate where women candidates often face overt sexism. It isn’t only Neera Tanden, whose nomination for budget chief was withdrawn after she was held to higher standards than male counterparts. Tanden’s tweets nasty? Compared to whose? Certainly not to the former president’s and his allies’ rhetoric.

Also concerning is the Senate’s slow pace. Many of the women appointed by Biden have yet to be confirmed. Included are three women named to important Department of Justice posts: Associate Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clark, Deputy AG Lisa Monaco, and Associate AG Vanita Gupta. They are urgently needed at the Department of Justice and the Senate slow-down will serve to deny justice.

On the national scene, offensive sexist language — no doubt a Trump legacy — still remains to plague us. Last summer’s instance drew a fiery response from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who ripped into Florida Rep. Ted Yoho for calling her a “f-ing bitch.” Called on for an apology, he said his words had been “misconstrued” and that he wouldn’t apologize for “my passion or for loving my god, my family and my country.”

Backing AOC in her takedown of Yoho was Washington’s Seventh District Rep. Pramila Jayapal who had been told she “didn’t know what she was talking about” and “should learn how to read.” Other women spoke up including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who had once been told that she (the mother of five) “thinks she knows more than the Pope about having babies.” 

AOC and the women who spoke up on the House floor gave us all permission to call out ugly put-downs. But it still reminds us that, although the Biden administration brought us a lot of good news about gender equality, we still battle double standards; we still face an uphill battle.

Those battles, however, are worth fighting. History tells us that women can overcome and, as the poet Amanda Gorman told both men and women at Biden’s and Harris’ inaugural, we will build bridges. She said we will rise, we will rebuild, reconcile and recover. We have only begun to make history

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Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and later for the Seattle Times. In 2003, she quit to run for Seattle City Council where she served 12 years. She now writes for Westside Seattle and has been a co-host on The Bridge, aired on community radio station KMGP. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.

1 COMMENT

  1. “…we still battle double standards; we still face an uphill battle. Those battles, however, are worth fighting.” Absolutely! Thanks for this story!
    BTW, anyone who wants to remind themselves that the battle is not yet over but progress is being made by younger generations should watch the new movie, Moxie, directed by the brilliant Amy Poehler and written by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer. After all these decades of witnessing the long-drawn-out struggle for gender equality, it made me hopeful.

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