Nearly a century after gaining national suffrage rights, American women represent a majority of voters, yet women represent less than a quarter of state legislators, a fifth of members of Congress, and an eighth of governors.
A careful examination of the trends at the local and state level reveals that unequal representation is even worse than it looks. My group Representation 2020 seeks parity for women in elected office—meaning that at any given moment a woman would be just as likely as a man to hold elected office—in our lifetimes. Yet, as to be reported in our State of Women’s Representation 2015-2016 report, women in fact are not on the road to achieving that goal.
A report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research suggested achieving parity would take several generations. But it’s too simplistic to map out trends from the past 20 years in anticipation of steady growth to parity. In the real world, representation of women typically stalls or regresses once it surpasses about a third of seats in a state. Unless both major parties show equal readiness to move to parity—and at this point, the Republican Party shows no such trend—the bottom line is stark: Absent new intervention by our political parties and our lawmakers, we simply won’t achieve gender parity nationally nor in most states. Not in our lifetime. Not in our children’s lifetime. Not ever.
My own elected representatives illustrate the problem. Even though Takoma Park, where I live, and Maryland are among the most welcoming of diversity of any city and state in the nation, my representatives are overwhelmingly male.
· Federally, the president and two of the three members of Congress representing me are men. We’ve never had a female president.
· In Maryland, the governor, our other statewide elected officials, and three of my four state representatives are men. We’ve never had a female governor, and only one woman has ever won a statewide office.
· In Montgomery County, the county Executive Council and five of my six representatives on the County Council are men. We’ve never had a female county executive.
· In Takoma Park the mayor is a man, as is my City Council representative. We’ve had one woman among our 22 mayors in the city’s history.
Eighty-five percent of my directly elected representatives are men (17 in 20), while 82 percent of all representatives in executive offices and legislative bodies representing me are men (578 in 744). In fact, men have represented a majority in every single legislative chamber that has ever represented me in my lifetime.