Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Women gain wider access to power

By Hanna Rosin, Special to CNN
updated 12:26 PM EST, Thu November 8, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hanna Rosin: The women's vote did not turn out to be historic in this election
  • Rosin: But for the first time, women look less like outsiders in the political process
  • For example, we elected a record number of women to the Senate, she says
  • Rosin: We will debate less about women's image and more about their actual policies

Editor's note: Hanna Rosin is the author of the new book, "The End of Men: And the Rise of Women." She is co-founder of Slate's DoubleX, a web magazine about women issues.

(CNN) -- I almost always get asked the same question: How can it possibly be the "end of men" when there are so few female elected officials -- when men still hold the reins of political power?

It's an excellent question. Until now, I've answered by pointing to statistical trends and future projections. Always, I ask people to take a leap of faith. But after this election, I feel like I am on so much more solid ground.

The women's vote did not turn out to be historic in the way pundits predicted before the election. Yes, more women voted for President Obama, but not in record numbers. The gender gap was in fact a little smaller in this election than in 2008. Yes, women were important in certain states, but so were young people, African-Americans and Latinos, who, together, make up Obama's new winning coalition. What's more, women did not even constitute a unified vote. Married women tended to vote for Romney, while single women went for Obama.

Hanna Rosin
Hanna Rosin

What changed in this election was that women accumulated power in a calm and measured way, and began to look for the first time much less like outsiders to the political process.

New Hampshire, arguably a state populated by the greatest concentration of political insiders and obsessives, gave us our first ever matriarchy -- a delegation of House, Senate and governor that is entirely female. We elected a record number of women to the Senate. One of those new senators is Elizabeth Warren, who over the rest of her career has the potential to embody women's transition from outsider status to right in the thick of things.

McCaskill victorious in Senate race
Baldwin: Change will move us forward

What about the "war on women," the constantly mutating arguments over reproductive rights?

On this, women won handily. In Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill ran against Todd Akin, who claimed that in "legitimate rape" the female body shuts down pregnancy. McCaskill not only beat Akin, she trounced him, winning by 16 points. Before the election, when McCaskill was still behind in the polls, women looked beleaguered and marginalized, subjected to lectures by men about their internal plumbing. Afterward, it's those who did the lecturing who seem like fringe, marginalized characters. In fact, practically all the candidates with the improbable Akin-type theories lost. (Check out this scorecard on Jezebel for a complete accounting.)

Once, not all that long ago, women seemed like newcomers to the political scene, alien to its settled ways. Women were scrutinized in their every public move as though they were a newly discovered species. Think back to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Could she be tough enough on China? Soft enough to cry? Would she wear red suits to all her big speeches? If so, what did that mean? Now that the sight of a woman in a roomful of senators is becoming less unusual, our analysis becomes much less crude. Debates about image and optics are ceding to debates about actual policies.

We also realize that women come in all types. More are likely to vote Democratic. Among female voters, more than 50% tend to favor abortion rights. Akin, for example, split the vote among white women. Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, who is strongly pro-life, kept her seat.

Just as men have wide varieties of views, so do women. Voting as a bloc is something you only do if you're disenfranchised. Voting the way you want is a sign that you're gaining power. The important thing is for women to participate in the political process and speak for themselves.

Workplace studies from the 1970s showed that when women reached a third of an office population, their presence no longer seemed unusual. The Senate will be one-fifth female. We're not there yet, but we're getting close.

In this election, people are still discussing historic firsts -- the first openly lesbian senator (Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin), the first Asian-American woman (Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii). Slowly, over time, we want these firsts to fade away and for female senators to be elected without that fact alone constituting a news story.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Hanna Rosin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT