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Women in the Senate: Does It Make a Difference?
The broad consensus is that gender shouldn’t matter when it comes to choosing our elected officials. Yet, the female senators of the 111th Congress certainly have a different opinion. In an interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said that “...We don’t always have that need to always be confrontational. I think we’re problem solvers, and that’s what I think this country needs.” and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) believes that women are more bipartisan than men, saying that “When I saw President Obama a few weeks ago, I told him about our quarterly dinners and I said, ‘Mr. President, if you want to see bipartisanship in Washington, invite the women senators to help you get it done.’ and he loved it.” Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) told The Atlantic that “Men can be just as strong advocates as women, but it just means that they may not have immediate empathy over the situation.” as she was talking about her personal experiences with the American healthcare system. Former Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) added that women are very results-oriented to CBS’s Julianna Goldman. These statements are very broad and controversial, as some believe that these are biased comments. Can that be proven? Although these comments can be read as pro-women rhetoric with no facts to back it up, female senators are more productive in a number of different ways. First of all, a good number of them focus more on what they can do for their constituents rather than how much ‘noise’ they are going to make. Secondly, women are much more bipartisan than men. Lastly, major changes in the United States have been engineered by women such as the farm bill and the government shutdown fix. The big question is, has the introduction of women in the United States Senate made any effects on the Senate? Yes, and those effects are profound.
Ever since the first female senator was elected, the productivity of women has been evident. The first female Senator elected was Hattie Wyatt Caraway (D-AR), who declared in 1943 that "There is no sound reason why women, if they have the time and ability, shouldn't sit with men on city councils, in state legislatures, and on Capitol Hill. Particularly if they have ability!" and was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most faithful supporters in the Senate. Senator Caraway was a pioneer in the US Senate, but she certainly made her mark in history. What typically happens, even nowadays, is that when tempers flare on the Senate floor, issues aren’t solved. Senator Caraway focused on delivering for the people of Arkansas. Ever since Caraway’s election, fifty two women have either served or are serving as United States Senators and America has changed significantly since Senator Caraway. 1992 and 2012 are known as the ‘Years of the Woman’ due to the uptick of women running for office. Prior to 1992, only two women were serving as senators, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Senator Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS) but after election day, there were four more women elected. The new senators included Patty Murray (D-WA), Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). In 2012, five women were elected and six women were reelected. The five new senators were Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). According to Quorum’s statistics, women are more productive in the Senate than their male counterparts. If we look at Quorum’s numbers, female senators introduced an average of 96.31 bills, 4.88 bills were out of the select Senate committee, and 2.31 bills were put into place. Compare that to 70.72 bills introduced by men, 3.24 out of the select committee(s) and 1.57 bills enacted. Based on this evidence, it can be inferred that women are more productive and they get more done. Another technique that senators use to delay votes is to filibuster. They would speak for an excruciatingly long time, therefore pushing the date of the vote they want to protest back. If we look at the five longest filibusters of all time, all five of them were achieved by men. It is possible that this is because of the ratio between men and women but since women haven’t spoken for as long as men in protest, it could be inferred that this impacts productivity. In the end, that is what a senator is elected to do. To be productive and to serve their constituents.
Bipartisanship is something treasured and nowadays, missed. Senator Feinstein’s comments about how women are more bipartisan than men were mentioned earlier and believe it or not, there are facts and statistics to prove it. According to Quorum, female senators cosponsored 3.79 bills with a woman from the opposite party compared to 2.11 bills for men with men. To add on, female senators have cosponsored 171.08 bills with someone from the opposite party (regardless of gender) compared to 129.87 bills for men. Correlation doesn’t always mean causation, but it has hard to deny a trend here. Former Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) wrote about her former colleague, fellow female Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-KS), writing “When I became a senator, she was so welcoming to me, offering tips and insights in my early days navigating the Senate. It’s a tradition I have tried to honor as Dean of the Senate Women, where I mentor and advise women who currently serve as senators.” (Mikulski). From this passage of Senator Mikulski’s piece, it can be inferred that the female senators have a strong bond, yet they are independent lawmakers. Every day on the news, we hear about the latest political spat and most of the time, it is between two men. Does every female senator agree with each other? No, most of them probably don’t agree with other senators in their own party. Take Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) as examples. Senator Warren is known to be one of the most liberal members of the Senate and has received an ‘F’ grade from the NRA (National Rifle Association) based on her views on gun rights and gun control compared to an ‘A’ for Senator Heitkamp, who is more of a centrist. Both of these senators are women, both of them are Democrats, yet they have completely different views on guns. If we look at how female senators are bipartisan compared to their male counterparts, there are stark differences. Earlier this year, a group of senators came up with a solution to the government shutdown. 7 women (Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)) which is just under ⅓ of the women serving in the Senate and 16 men which is slightly over 20% of all of the male senators. The reason there are more men is because there are more men serving, but the percentage of total senators that could have been part of that solution is higher for women. We need bipartisanship more than ever, and both women and men have been losing sight of it.
When it comes to actual legislation, women have proven to be more productive and people elect women by larger margins. Senator Klobuchar told Stephen Colbert that “A woman senator lead the end of the shutdown, a woman senator lead the budget, a woman lead the farm bill. Just think of what we could do, Stephen, if we had 50%.” and based on these statistics, the Senate could be much more productive. With the statistics and the actual legislation that Senator Klobuchar referenced, it has been proven that female senators are more productive than what the American public gives them credit for. The average percent of the vote won for a female senator in their most recent election was compared to for a male senator. It’s not just modern vote percentages that have a difference.
% of Vote Won for Female Senators (1992)
% of Vote Won Male Senators (1988-1992)
Barbara Boxer (D-CA): 47.9%
Don Nickles (R-OK) : 58.6%
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD): 71%
Chris Dodd (D-CT) : 58.81%
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA): 54.29%
Slade Gorton (R-WA) : 51.09%
Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL): 53.27%
Connie Mack (R-FL) : 50.42%
Nancy Kassebaum (R-KS): 73.6%
Strom Thurmond (R-SC) : 64.2%
Patty Murray (D-WA): 53.99%
James Exon (D-NE): 58.9%
Average Percentage: 59.008%
Average Percentage: 57.003%
This chart shows that even in 1992 (or the closest election to 1992), female senators won more of the vote which shows that their constituents either wanted a change with someone new, which is the case with most of the female senators, or they were happy with the senator they have. If people aren’t happy with their senator, it would be strange for him or her to be re-elected.
In conclusion, when we look back at the comments the female senators of the 111th Congress made, we can prove them all true. We can prove former Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) right about the productivity of female senators and that indeed, they are very results oriented as seen by Quorum’s statistics. We can prove both Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) right when they talk about bipartisanship as we also see from Quorum’s numbers and the major bipartisan bills that were referenced earlier on. Lastly, we can prove Senator Klobuchar right when she talks about empathy because if female senators weren’t empathetic problem solvers, why would they be receiving a higher percent of the vote? Ever since women were introduced to the Senate, not only have there been effects on the Senate itself, but those effects have been profound. The next question is, will these changes in the Senate occur when a woman ascends to the presidency?
“20 Senators Sworn in on Capitol Hill.” Performance by Diane Sawyer, YouTube, YouTube, 3 Jan. 2013.
Anonymous, Anonymous. “Hattie Wyatt Caraway Facts.” Biography, 2010.
Kranz, Michal. “Meet the Common Sense Coalition - the Bipartisan Group of Senators Who Ended the Government Shutdown.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 23 Jan. 2018.
“Map of NRA Grades for Senators.” Margie Roswell.
Mikulski, Barbara, et al. “Friendship without Ideology.” POLITICO, 13 Nov. 2013.
Restauri, Denise. “5 Stats Prove That Female Senators Get More Done Than Men.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 24 Feb. 2015.
“Senators McCaskill and Klobuchar Explain How Women Get Things Done.” Performance by Stephen Colbert, YouTube, YouTube, 10 Nov. 2015.
Strauss, Alix. “Key Moments Since 1992, 'The Year of the Woman'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Apr. 2017.
This Morning, CBS, director. Bonds between Female Senators That Make Washington Work. YouTube, YouTube, 31 July 2015.
“To Be a Woman in the Senate.” Performance by Amy Klobuchar, YouTube, YouTube, 31 Oct. 2016.
“Women in the U.S. Senate 2018.” CAWP, 19 Sept. 2018.