1992 AND ALL THAT
1992 WAS BILLED BY THE NEWS MEDIA AS THE "YEAR OF THE WOMAN" IN POLITICS. Women's time had finally come. Or had it? Perhaps headlines should have said Another Year of the Woman, reflecting the fact that this was only the latest fanfare marking record gains by women. In fact, the media had dubbed 1969 the Year of the Woman when a record number of women were elected to the House. And it happened again in 1984 and in 1988. 1990 was proclaimed the Year of the Woman until women candidates began to look vulnerable and the Year fizzled out before election day. In reality, despite the familiar media proclamations, women politicians remained outsiders in 1992.
Redistricting, retirements, and other factors created a record eighty-six open House seats. By and large, women who won election did not have to run against incumbents. Only four of the twenty-four freshmen women in Congress defeated incumbents, two of them in the Democratic primaries in their states and two in the general election. For other women who challenged entrenched officeholders, the "Year of the Woman" proved to be an empty phrase. Despite the strong anti-incumbent sentiment in the country, many incumbents, fortified with seniority, media attention, and money, survived the challenge. As some observers later said, 1992 should not have been labeled the Year of the Woman at all but rather the Year of Opportunity.
Catherine Manegold of the New York Times provided a reality check a couple of weeks before the general election. "Even a wave of victories by female candidates will not give women dominance on Capitol Hill," she wrote. "Should a female candidate win in every possible race, the 103rd Congress would still be 80 percent male. More likely, many women will lose, leaving the United States still well behind most European countries in female representation." Said Gloria Steinem, "This isn't the Year of the Woman. That won't happen until we have half the U.S. Congress and every other decision-making body, a president once in a while, women leaders who are as diverse as we are." Even after a wave of primary victories for women that included Carol Moseley-Braun's upset of Al Dixon for an Illinois Senate seat and good turnouts of women voters in other early contests, Harriett Woods, president of the