This article originally appeared on National Review Online on November 8, 2010.
We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
Women win some, women lose some.
By: Kathryn Jean Lopez
In the summer of 2008, Nancy Pelosi wrote a book, Know Your Power: A Message to America’s Daughters. The book implored the women of America to thank the San Francisco congresswoman for breaking the so-called “marble ceiling” in Congress by becoming the first woman speaker of the House — and for carrying a lot of cargo when she headed to the White House for the first time as speaker.
“The President, always gracious, welcomed me as a new member of the leadership,” she wrote about her first meeting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as speaker:
As he began the discussion, I suddenly felt crowded in my chair. It was truly an astonishing experience, as if Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and all the other suffragettes and activists who had worked hard to advance women in government and in life were right there with me. I was enthralled by their presence, and then I could clearly hear them say: “At last we have a seat at the table.”
“After a moment,” she wrote, “they were gone.”
If Anthony, Stanton, Mott, and Paul were proud of Pelosi back then, they might be even prouder now. As for myself, I’m delighted that we are now on the verge of the historic moment of having a woman former speaker of the House. You win some, you lose some. We’ve seen a lot of that play out in these midterm elections. And with the loss of the first woman speaker of the House, we gain in John Boehner a presumptive speaker of the House who is willing to defend the most defenseless among us — the unborn. Bring him on. There are girls who will be allowed to be born because of this man from Ohio — girls the suffragettes believed deserved to live.
And yet, in the wake of the election — which, frankly, had wake-like aspects for all of us; it wasn’t a total win for either party — there were headlines like: “Americans Slam Women in Midterm Election.” That one’s from an article in an online magazine for women executives reacting to the Democrats’ relegation to minority status in the House. They took especially hard the loss of Speaker Pelosi: “How will women survive in this man’s world come 2012?”
Quite fine, thank you. This election cycle has engaged more Americans, including women, in citizen-activist roles. They’ve been working for more women and men in Congress who understand that Washington has been guilty of fiscal, moral, and constitutional malpractice. We now have hope for change that will put us all in a much better position — perhaps, before long, with some change to spare, for once. We want good policy from Washington, and we know that men are quite capable of it, too.
The “Slam” headline and the opening of that silly chick-zine article weren’t too far off from my prediction for a New York Times headline if incumbent senator Barbara Boxer, an ardent legal-abortion activist, lost her tight reelection bid to pro-life businesswoman Carly Fiorina: “Republican Women Win; Women Hurt the Most.”
Although Fiorina lost (in a deeply liberal state), she was part of an election cycle in which unprecedented numbers of pro-life women ran for office and forced the media to take notice. Images of Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican convention with her family, including her beautiful son Trig, broke through the mainstream media bias that has kept the lens cap on when pro-life women have come on the scene. If we were playing the game our sisters play, we’d call it the lens-cap ceiling.
According to the Susan B. Anthony List, which works to elect pro-life candidates, especially pro-life women, “The percentage of women in the House of Representatives who are pro-life increased by 60 percent while the percentage of women who are pro-choice decreased by 16 percent.” Additionally, one pro-life woman was elected to the Senate (from New Hampshire); previously there had been none. And there are now four pro-life women governors in the U.S., outnumbering the two legal-abortion-activist women governors, who are both up for reelection in 2012.
In the hours immediately after her election, the New Hampshire senator-elect, former attorney general Kelly Ayotte, had the most refreshing reaction to a reporter who sought to make news of the fact that she was the only woman among the 16-strong Senate freshman class. “I hadn’t actually thought about it until you just said it,” Ayotte responded.
And why would she think of it? She’s one among 16 who have offered themselves for national service and have been granted the opportunity. Men and women alike.
We’re so used to the gender card being used in politics; the media are so comfortable with it. Women in the Senate have contributed to the problem, playing up to women’s groups that live off the myth that being a woman is a liberal ideology. But it’s not. And thanks to this election, young women will be just a little bit more liberated from the myths that the left-wing sisterhood that dares to speak for them — and attempts to indoctrinate them — have peddled for far too long. We girls can make all kinds of responsible choices. Embracing who we are, how we are different, and what we value.
There are many women across the nation who aren’t crying over a fallen speaker. “Women like Martha Roby [Ala.], Kristi Noem [S.D.], and Diane Black [Tenn.] will be a breath of fresh air in the House of Representatives,” Penny Nance, chief executive officer of Concerned Women for America, tells me. “They are conservative (fiscally and socially), strong, and independent in the best sense of the term. Yes, there is going to be a net loss of women on Capitol Hill, but the ones who lost we won’t miss. They followed President Obama off the political cliff by embracing his outrageous economic policies, and the American people appropriately fired them.”
With the presumptive succession of John Boehner to the speaker’s office, many of us concerned women are happy for America’s daughters to know that when it comes to success in the House, it’s not the sex, but the leadership, the world view, and the policies that matter most. May we retire the phrase “marble ceiling” and get on with the work of the people’s House, this time listening to them!
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at [email protected]. This column is available exclusively through United Media. For permission to reprint or excerpt this copyrighted material, please contact Carmen Puello.