Have women finally shattered the political version of the glass ceiling? Will our daughters not encounter it again? The evidence seems to be strongly yes.
I started my political career working for two New York politicians: Carol Bellamy, president of the City Council; and Liz Holtzman, a Brooklyn congresswoman running for the Senate. These women were part of a new wave that corresponded to the rise of feminism. (For both my bosses, I would say that their careers were enabled by feminist trailblazers such as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Barbara Jordan, but they had no interest in being limited to what were then called “women’s issues.”)
These “waves” seemed to come in the 1980s and ’90s; every advance for women politically — whether it be on issues, including choice, equal pay or birth control, or in actual numbers of women elected to office — seemed to be followed by a backlash. The euphoria of the elections of 1976, 1992 and 2008 were followed by a decline or stagnation in the number of women elected to Congress; and many observers commented that the 1992 election, the “year of the woman,” never realized its potential.
This chart shows the backlash, at least in one measurement: support for the equality of women. As you can see, there is a clear trend toward greater support generally, but during periods in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, support would dip, sometimes dramatically. Since these dips often followed the rise of women leaders and a more female-centric agenda, I think this chart supports the theory of a backlash.
However, since the turn of this century, support for women's equality has been rising. And while the data in the chart stops in 2008, the evidence continues that women are rising politically: In 2012, more women senators and representatives and the first all-female delegation in New Hampshire were elected; and support for equal pay, choice and women's health generally served as election drivers. Perhaps, the backlash is dead.