An organization called the Women's Campaign Fund (WCF) has been calling attention to an odd fact about our government. It is that women - that is to day half the population of the country - are, so far as the country's government is concerned, the missing half.
Women hold less than 7 percent of all elected offices. In the last 200 years, 12 women and 1,715 men have been served in the U.S. Senate. (Most of the women were appointed to fill the unexpired terms of their husbands and stayed in office an average of five months.) Only three women have ever been elected for full Senate terms. Only 18 out of 435 members of the House of Representatives are women, the same number as 40 years ago. There are no women on the Supreme Court and never have been.
I'm not sure whether that makes a difference to the country, although I'm sure it makes a difference to the country's women. If there were more women holding office, I doubt the Equal Rights Amendment would be in trouble. Also, it seems to me unreasonable that the 28-member House-Senate Conference Committee that is trying to write legislation on abortion should be all male.
When I say I'm unsure if it makes a difference I mean I doubt that women are morally superior to men or more inclined to the virtues of kindness and goodwill or have a greater appreciation of beauty. I heard all this asserted during the co-education arguments of the late '60s, but I never heard the assertions proved.
Nevertheless, it does seem to me that there is a massive waste involved. When we set aside 52 percent of the population and say, in effect, "Here is a pool from which we shall not draw for service in government," it stands to reason that we will thereby lose talent.
John Stuart Mill worried about this problem more than 100 years ago. "Is there so great a superfluity of men fit for high duties," he asked, "that society can afford to reject the service of any competent person? Are we so certain of always finding a man . . . for any duty or function of social importance which falls vacant, that we lose nothing by putting a ban upon half of mankind and refusing beforehand to make their faculties available, however distinguished they may be . . .?"
The Women's Campaign Fund has been raising money across the country to help women of both major parties finance their campaigns.
It is hard for women candidates to raise money. Usually, they don't have longstanding business and professional connections. The "old boy" network is not at their disposal. Two years ago this month, there were four women running for an all-male U.S. Senate. When they gathered in Washington for a news conference, they discovered that none had received financial support from any national organization other than the Women's Campaign Fund.
"Money," said Gloria Schafer, Connecticut's secretary of state, who was one of those Senate candidates, "is the major reason why women do not run for high office." Rep. Martha Keys (D-Kan.) says she would never have made it to Washington without the Women's Campaign Fund. "They did something unusual. They supported my campaign in a primary - when other backers were afraid to take a chance on a woman."
I don't know why it has taken so long for an organization such as the WCF to get started. After all, women got the vote back in 1920. But I think it's about time somebody challenged the unspoken proposition that in running our public affairs, half our population, half our talent and half our brains should be wasted.