If women were in charge, we wouldn’t be heading at breakneck speed toward the looming “fiscal cliff.”
That’s what Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in an interview Tuesday with 18 other women senators and senators-elect. The entire group appeared to agree with Collins’s statement.
“I think if we [women] were in charge of the Senate and of the administration, we would have a budget deal by now,” Collins said. “With all deference to our male colleagues, women’s styles tend to be more collaborative.”
For the first time in 224 years, one-fifth of the U.S. Senate will be female when the 113th Congress is sworn in on Jan. 3. Twenty women — 16 Democrats and 4 Republicans — will serve in the Senate, up from the current 17.
Sawyer interviewed 19 of the 20; Sen.-elect Heidi Heitkamp (D) of North Dakota was attending the funeral of a National Guardsman killed in Afghanistan and could not participate. The entire interview will air Jan. 3.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) was also featured in the clip released by ABC. She agreed with Collins. “By nature we are less confrontational and more collaborative,” McCaskill said. “Not only do we want to work in a bipartisan way, we do it.”
She’s co-sponsored a number of bills with Republicans, such as the Earmark Elimination Act of 2011 with Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), so she’s proven she can reach across the aisle.
But will all women senators work together in the term? I hope so, though I can’t help but think of the movie “Mean Girls” as well as the book that inspired it, “Queen Bees and Wannabes.” Do a quick search and you’ll also find such titles as “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman,” “Tripping the Prom Queen” and “Mean Girls, Meaner Women.”
Not exactly tomes to inspire confidence. On the other hand, therapists Phyllis Goldberg and Rosemary Lichtman, co-founders of HerMentorCenter.com, believes the “mean girl” behavior is the product of immaturity and peer pressure. No need to worry about the women in the U.S. Senate.
“They have a lot of life experience,” Goldberg told me. Women are brought up to take care of people and situations, developing communicative and collaborative skills. “Those skills in family relationships can be a metaphor for so many other things, whether in politics or business.”
Women know how to work with other people to make things happen. Ask any mom who’s brokered a deal with two squabbling preschoolers in the backseat of a car she’s driving down the freeway during rush hour. You want to talk about negotiation and compromise? Discuss curfew for prom with a teenage girl. My latest claim: I can get my son to take out the garbage without resorting to bribery or violence. Usually.
Goldberg sees something else that may help the new crop of female senators in their work in the coming session. “The excitement, the energy, the idealism [from having more women than ever before in the Senate] — all of that can coalesce into a lot of strength and power and a willingness to reach solutions,” she said.
Even the “emotionality” of women, sometimes viewed as a weakness, gives them an empathy with those facing hard times due to high unemployment and the effects of the recession. “Women by nature and by early learning are very emotional,” Goldberg said. “When they see how frustrated, how discouraged, how stressed families and individuals are, they have the desire to make something happen and to bring some closure to a very painful period in people’s lives.”
If women were running the show, I think they would have settled the fiscal cliff business out of empathy with the middle-class moms who are trying to figure out whether they’re shopping for a hard-candy Christmas or an iPad in every stocking.
What will January bring for the family finances?
But if the current Congress fails to solve the fiscal cliff crisis, I am reassured by another skill attributed to women: We’re good at cleaning up messes, even when someone else makes them.
Diana Reese is a freelance journalist in Kansas City. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.