As the 113th Congress was sworn in last week, women stood on solid ground as they took the solemn oath of office. A record number of children accompanied their parents to the ceremony. Kristen Gillibrand’s son, unimpressed with his surroundings, took his mother’s swearing in as an opportunity to muss her hair and otherwise composed decorum. Despite this, it seems that very little hair-pulling will take place amongst the females in congress, unlike the men who resorted to such childish tactics as overt profanity, as in the case of John Boehner and Harry Reid.
In fact, as more woman than ever file into the U.S. House of Representatives, there is an urgency for both parties to work across the aisle as they battle for the legislation that they campaigned so very earnestly for. Acknowledging their diversity while asserting the unique position of women in Congress, Representative Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, attested in the New York Times, “The women, I think, are going to reach across the aisle a lot more. We’re a lot more pragmatic, but we do come from all different backgrounds.”
Duckworth stands out as one of the first female combat veterans elected to congress. Like so many congresswomen, she represents the diversity of beliefs amongst her constituents. Already, major issues such as the fiscal cliff, gun control and economics policies have challenged the women of Congress to make tough decisions and to act together.
The latest polarizing topic in Congress has been the compromise (or lack thereof) reached in the fiscal cliff. House Democrat Leader, Nancy Pelosi addressed concerns over the fiscal cliff immediately following the compromise. While she explained that Democrats are willing to compromise on spending cuts, she also acknowledged that some cuts can hurt major areas of development like technology, energy and education. Furthermore, she cited that the micromanagement of such issues as spending cuts versus budget cuts calls forth a greater issue.
“It is bigger than just the accounting, it is about who we are as a country, how we professionally deal with the challenges,” she noted in a New York Times interview. While Pelosi is the voice of the majority Democratic house, she also represents a major female constituency willing to work across the aisle in matters as complex as the debt ceiling.
Another issue that has brought forth fervent debate following the Newtown school shooting tragedy is gun control; specifically, the assault weapons ban that has been brought to the floor of the House. As Dianne Feinstein leads the Senate in bringing the legislation through, she has met fervent opposition. Most recently, gun advocates have drawn up a petition for her to be tried in federal court for treason in violation of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
While Feinstein may be making enemies with NRA sympathizers, she has been making friends across the aisle in the Senate. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican, supports both the Constitution and gun control. She stated the need for a fine balance in a recent interview: “While denying the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens won’t change the behavior of those intent on using firearms for criminal purposes, I wholeheartedly agree that we must examine what can be done to help prevent gun violence.” Collins represents one of many female senators willing to work across the aisle in forming balanced approach to the debate over assault weapons.
While politics can be highly nuanced, it’s hard to argue with the proven results of women in other fields, like finance. According to a recent report published in Dealbook, “Returns at hedge funds run by women beat the industry.” Studies show that because women are more risk-averse than men, they avoid the volatility of the financial markets and make more sound decisions when it comes to money matters. Women have consistently delivered high returns on investment. Similarly, female legislators can help foster success by acknowledging and supporting strides for women and business, as Hillary Clinton did in a recent summit meeting.
“People are beginning to see that empowering women leads to economic development. That you don’t espouse women’s rights because it’s a virtuous thing to do but because it leads to economic growth,” said Clinton.
As a former member of Obama’s cabinet, Clinton was able to influence policy both as the secretary of state and as a former senator, and to support women across the globe in their economic productivity.
With all the strides that women in the newly elected Congress have made, sadly the president’s own inner circle has taken a step back in the realm of diversity. Obama’s recently elected cabinet for his second term has zero females in it. In a recent Washington Post article entitled , “Obama needs binders of women,” Marcus makes the argument that Obama could benefit from the wisdom of his first cabinet, and even take a note from his Republican opponent Mitt Romney’s tactics, by seeking out females to fill his staff.
Any token representation of women aside, had Obama chosen more prudently he may have had an advantage over some of his political opponents in the house. While many chastised his harsh criticism of Susan Rice, who was arguably pushed out of the position of secretary of state by opponents, he had several highly qualified candidates to choose from.
Beyond the position of secretary of state, Obama even had the chance to appoint a woman to the macho position of secretary of Defense. Michelle Flournoy was a candidate. As Marcus attested in her op-ed, “The gratifying thing about my now-imaginary Rice and Flournoy picks is that they would have occurred organically, reflecting the rise of women in the foreign and defense policy establishments.”
Both conservative and liberal columnists at the Washington Post advocate for the greater good by appointing women to Obama's cabinet. Even long term holdout Kathleen Parker, known for her “just one of the guys” attitudes, has taken up the cause. “More women. More women. More women. There are plenty to fill an equal number of slots — no more scrounging to find qualified candidates,” she advocated over a year ago, before Obama had eliminated women from his cabinet.
Now if only he could dig up those binders of women that Romney had, Obama might be able to finally reach a consensus on the fiscal cliff, gun control and that volatile economy with little debate.