Thursday, November 3, 2011

The US Senate -It's a Man's World

The US Senate has often been described as a club, a boy's club.  There are 17 women in the Senate. Some people wish to increase that number and are deeply worried about the coming elections. For some activists, political analysts and female Senators, the prospect of having a US Senate with fewer women is just horrible. Worse it's bad for democracy.

Ok. I have no issue with stating that representative institutions should try to be, well representative. That's fine. However as usually is the case when these kinds of discussions pop up the people agitating for more women in the US Senate fall back on hyperbolic claims that the US Senate or democracy itself would somehow be transformed for the better because women somehow have special insights or are just more moral than men.

"When women are part of the negotiation and are part of decision-making, the outcomes are just better," said Gillibrand. "When we have our dinners with the women in the Senate -- the Democrats and Republicans -- we have so much common ground. We agree on so many basic principles and values. I think if there were more women at the decision-making table, we would get more things done."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) echoed that sentiment at Fortune magazine's "Most Powerful Women" dinner in April 2010.
When asked about progress on regulatory reform legislation, Feinstein replied, "Well, I actually think that if we had all women [in the Senate],we would solve the problem."
 Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who was sitting in the front row at the event, enthusiastically clapped in response.
"There was a moment there at the end of the debt ceiling [debate] that some of the women, on a bipartisan basis, were talking about, 'We need to take this over and get this done,'" said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who is running for her second term in 2012. "I think we are, by our nature, nurturers and negotiators. We want people to get along, we want to find a solution, we want to move forward. I think sometimes there is a tendency to like the fight for the fight's sake every once in awhile with some of the guys. So I think having more women involved will help."
Senator Feinstein's comment stood out to me, not only because of its obvious chauvinism but also because Feinstein was and is in my opinion one of the more ethically challenged people in the US Senate. She is exactly the sort of person that both the Tea Party and the 99% movement would likely agree on as an example of the odious nexus between big money, big government, war profiteering and private enrichment at the public trough. If we had more women like Dianne Feinstein in the US Senate this country would be in even worse condition than it is.
I've been in the world a while now and although there are obvious deep differences both physically and socially/emotionally between men and women I think these are dwarfed by the similarities. And whatever differences I have noticed between men and women certainly haven't been MORAL ones.
I've worked with women bosses or co-workers that: 
  • were racist or bigoted
  • were bullies
  • used sex appeal or sex to get ahead
  • used seeming weakness to manipulate people
  • were greedy and shortsighted
  • were lazy
  • were unqualified for their position
  • were unable to work well with others or admit mistakes
  • were emotionally crippled
  • were more dedicated to their job than anyone else
  • were gracious and kind
  • went above and beyond to help me and others succeed
  • were extremely smart
  • were incredibly talented hardworking people
In short the women I work(ed) with ran the entire gamut of humanity, just like men did. HOW they expressed themselves might differ a bit from men on average but WHAT they expressed did not. Not at all.
Now Senator Feinstein's and Senator McCaskill's comments, much like Justice Sotomayor's "Wise Latina" crack may not be noticed or may be excused as understandable hyperbole-coming from women that is. It's a minor bigotry as such things go.
But what if say Rick Santorum or Rick Perry stood up and said 
"I agree with Senators Feinstein and McCaskill. Women are more nurturing and that is exactly why we need fewer of them in the Senate. The Senate is not a place for nurturing. It is a place for sober reflection, cold logic and deliberate hardball negotiation. And men are by our very nature, tacticians and philosophers."
Obviously that would be a career limiting move to say the least. But that is one logical outcome of the statements about nurturing.
My fundamental belief is that people are generally the same, morally. I don't believe that women are better than men, that whites are better than blacks or whatever. If the Knesset and Hamas and the PA were made up of all women there would still be rockets and bombs flying back and forth between the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. The only difference is the bombs might have pink ribbons attached.
For whatever reason, whether it be biological or sociological there are more men that want to run for office. So more men get elected. As long as their voters are satisfied with the outcomes I don't think their gender is relevant. And the idea that because a slight majority of the population is women means that the Senate representation should be 50-50 or close to it makes no sense to me. Because so many of the people who state that or imply it are not concerned about the increasing decline of men in college or the workplace. It's as if where women are less than 50% of a given population there must be changes made to bring women in but where women are more than 50% of a given population , well that's wonderful progress. Heads I win, tails you lose.
There are some nations in the world which have legally required or informal quotas for female representation in their legislative bodies. I don't think that's going to happen here, fortunately. I think that over time we will see more women in the House and Senate. But I don't think that's something that is going to be imposed from above. And I also don't think it will make a tremendous amount of difference in how the system is run. Again, as Feinstein shows, it's money that makes the world go round..

1) What's your take? Do you think the US Senate needs more women?
2) Would a Senate made up of all women be better for the US?
3) Why don't more women run for office?
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