TWENTY years ago, when Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Betty
Friedan, and others launched the movement for women's rights, there
were two women serving in the United States Senate. Today, after
decades of protest and struggle, there are ... two women serving in
the United States Senate.
Champions of women's causes might be discouraged except for one
thing: good news at the state and local levels.
From Phoenix, Ariz., to Augusta, Maine, women are taking
positions of power. There are more women mayors, legislators, and
statewide officeholders than ever before. They are increasing public
debate about issues like child care, family leave, abortion, and the
nomination of Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court.
When a woman was elected to the Louisiana Senate in March 1991,
it marked a historic moment, observes Sharon Rodine, president of
the National Women's Political Caucus. For the first time, women
hold seats in every state legislative body.
Yet there is still much to do. Women widely opposed the war with
Iraq, but America went to war anyway. Women favor more money for
social programs, but the Republican and Democratic men running
Washington often cut those programs. Women barely have a voice in
the Supreme Court, in the White House, or among the governors.
Although progress at the state level has been slower than Ms.
Rodine once hoped, it has been steady. In 1971, less than 5 percent
of all state lawmakers were women. Today that has risen to 18
The Arizona Legislature, where women hold 34.4 percent of the
seats, leads the way. But other states are close behind, with women
occupying nearly one-third of all legislative seats in Maine, New
Hampshire, Vermont, Washington, and Colorado.
The laggards are mostly in the South: Louisiana, 2.1 percent;
Kentucky, 5.1 percent; Alabama, 5.7 percent; Arkansas, 6.7 percent;
Mississippi, 6.9 percent; Oklahoma, 8.7 percent.
Even with all the state progress, however, the stagnation in
Washington leaves some women with mixed feelings.
"I'm discouraged on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and
encouraged on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays," says historian
Cynthia Harrison, author of "On Account of Sex: the Politics of
Women's Issues, 1945-1968."
Dr. Harrison, like other analysts, says that strengthening female
power in government could make a difference in the big issues of our
time. This year's vote in Congress on the war with Iraq stands out
as an example.
Male Democratic members of the House opposed the war, but only by
a 2-to-1 margin. …