Many people know that March is Women’s History Month — a time when our country celebrates the contributions women have made to politics, history, culture and society. What many people don’t know is that March was designated as Women’s History Month in 1987 by Ronald Reagan.
It may surprise some, especially when you think of the commonly “spun” narrative that Democrats are the party for women, that a conservative president from the GOP spearheaded this effort. In fact, I bet this has some kids running for their safe spaces!
Of course Reagan understood that a special resolution wasn’t what women needed to succeed; he also recognized women’s potential and that their accomplishments deserved greater appreciation.
And in the decades since, women have proved him right. While in 1987 there were only two female senators and 24 female congressmen, women today play a decidedly active role in public life, serving in public office, the media, or as important public policy influencers.
Today we have 21 women serving in the Senate, and 104 serving in Congress. There are seven confirmed women in the new administration, and a third of the Supreme Court seats are held by women. And the numbers are comparable at the state level, where 24 percent of executive positions are held by women, including four governors, 14 lieutenant governors, and 56 other statewide elected officials.
Of course this picture isn’t perfect. Some lament that women are still grossly underrepresented in public office. And perhaps more significant, progressives are generally overrepresented in these offices, meaning they’re pushing for more big-government policies that too often backfire on women and their families. But the idea of women in these positions is a familiar one.
Still, research demonstrates that American voters are ready for women to lead. New social science studies are suggesting that charges of gender bias appear to be overstated, and that voters are just as likely to vote for a woman who shares their ideology as a man.
However, progress isn’t just a numbers game. Real feminist progress should also be determined by how we treat one another.
And on this mark, too many women are failing.
There’s no doubt the 2017 election was contentious — politics often is. However, in the wake of the election, too many women seemed to have forgotten basic standards of decency. Frankly, just plain old good manners were ignored.
Pictures from the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington of women screaming, pushing and spitting at one another suggest that progress has not been made with regard to political civility. Insults and threats posted online about other women are horrible. And a month after the inauguration, the first woman to run a successful presidential campaign is still being threatened and denigrated; and the first lady continues to be ridiculed and subject to a constant stream of nasty, personal attacks.
Consequently, we are now living in a political environment seemingly more toxic than it’s ever been.
When Reagan determined March to be Women’s History Month, there were only two women in the Senate: Nancy Kassebaum, a Republican from Kansas, and Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland. And in spite of being from opposite parties, Kassebaum and Mikulski recognized the chance to work together and forge partnerships. Together they founded the Office of Women’s Health Research at the National Institutes of Health, and they served together on the Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources. They were partners, and today they remain friends.
As we celebrate Women’s History this month, let’s keep in mind it’s not just numbers that measure progress. We still have a long way to go in terms of recognizing that women are not a homogenous bloc. We may share many things in common — shared experiences that unite us — but, ultimately, we are still individuals who have different priorities and preferences. And while our differences may be criticized, we ought to remember that progress should be judged by the tone of our political arena, the standards of civility we demand and the grace with which we treat our adversaries.
Sens. Kassebaum and Mikulski could teach us all a lesson.
Andrea Bottner is the director of government affairs at the Independent Women’s Forum and founder of Bottner Strategies.