Thursday, June 01, 2017

An American Problem

Copied from the newsletter of the League of Women Voters of Chattanooga (TN)


- April Goebeler

Many people believed that the presidential election of 2016 signified that the “good ol’ boys” had won, and their view of women prevailed. It felt personal, like a slap in the face. This view, however, is not honest.

An honest look at the political environment of the United States reveals that inequality between the sexes is prevalent and cannot be solved by one election. The 2016 election was only a slap in the face to those who failed to notice how grossly underrepresented women are in all levels of government. The “good ol’ boy” view of women in politics is discrete but overt. Only about 19% of all members of Congress are women. There are 21 women in the Senate; 16 Democrats and 5 Republicans. There are 83 females in the House of Representatives and about a quarter of them are Republican.

Although Republicans are less represented than Democrats, proportional representation in government is not a partisan problem; it is an American problem.

During the Women’s March coverage, a news anchor made the comment that women in America are better off than women in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. This got me thinking, is this statement true? According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the answer is no.

The United States ranks 98th in proportional representation, putting it behind middle eastern countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I don’t believe the news anchor was trying to mislead his audience. I think Americans honestly do not realize the problem.

Locally, there are nine seats on Chattanooga’s City Council. Only two seats are held by women, Dr. Carol Berz, District 6 and Demetres Coonrod, District 9.

In Hamilton County, there are nine County Commissioners. Only one is a woman, Sabrina Turner-Smedely. Except for a few women on the School Board, almost every elected office in Hamilton County is held by a man. The statistics are dismal.

Why do we have this problem? This is partially due to American historical culture. Women did not have the right to serve on a jury until 1973, keep working while pregnant until 1987, refuse sex with their husbands until 1993, or pay the same for health care until 2010.

The problem also lies within ourselves. Women are everyday activists. At work, we fight for equal pay and break glass ceilings. At home, we disproportionately care for children, home, and elders. These issues are important, but we can’t afford to ignore the issue of proportional representation any longer. Women make up 51% of the American population; we should represent 51% of government.

Recently a friend asked me whether I would run for office. Immediately I said, “No, I don’t like public speaking.” Let’s push these excuses aside and make proportional representation in government the next big success story in Women’s Liberation.

- April Goebeler

This article was first printed in the May 2017 quarterly newsletter of the Mayor's Council for Women, "Leadership Matters"

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