OPINION: United States Congress -- 100 Women, 97 Years


Leeann Sausser is a junior
English writing and history double major
from Indianapolis.

After the midterm elections this week, for the first time ever in the United States there will be 100 women in Congress.

Didn’t know that? Yeah, I didn’t either. Yet buried underneath articles about Americans’ dissatisfaction with Obama and the GOP takeover of the Senate, CNN published an article entitled “Among midterm winners many historic firsts,” by Jeremy Diamond.

Among the firsts Diamond lists are Tim Scott, the first Southern African American elected to the Senate since Reconstruction; Mia Love, the first African American Republican woman ever to be elected to Congress; Gina Raimondo, Rhode Island’s first female governor. And tucked among those names (who, no doubt, are great firsts to have) lies that tiny, one sentence paragraph: “The number of women in Congress will reach 100 for the first time in U.S. history.”

I knew the number of women in Congress was too low. Ideally, there should be 267 women, or half of the total number of members, in Congress, just as the United States population is half women. But here’s another number for you: according to the U.S. House of Representatives’ History, Art & Archives website, only 298 women have ever served in Congress.

In 1917, the first woman was elected to Congress, Rep Jeannette Rankin of Montana. It has taken 97 years to get just 100 women into Congress. That’s several decades too long.

Why aren’t we talking about this? Why, amidst sentiments for or against this new arrangement of Congress, isn’t anyone mentioning the incredibly slow pace of women entering Congress?

I don’t pretend to be a political science expert. I don’t know how many women are running versus men and how many votes they receive. But it seems wrong to me that it’s so hard for our country to put this issue in the open.

Sexism is alive and well in the U.S. Women still earn roughly 77 cents to a man’s dollar (and to the people out there who say it’s because of their career choices: why do you think women end up in those careers?). The women on this campus live constantly with heightened senses, worried about the stranger walking behind them on the street, worried about losing that Washington D.C. internship to their male peer.

We need women (and men) in Congress to change our country’s culture regarding women. Women can never gain equality when they’re denied equal representation in Congress. Nor can they gain equality when no one in the government is willing to speak for them, willing to take their case.

I’m not saying I’m unhappy with the 100 women milestone. When women enter Congress, they prove how powerful and strong women can be. They prove that women belong in the ranks just as much as men.

What I am unhappy with is our country’s inability to speak about the slow growth of women in political positions as much as we speak about political parties. We need to move this subject from one line in a small article (which should have been bigger anyway) into a category all of its own.

We need to give it the attention it deserves.