The United States ranks a miserly 79th out of nearly 200 countries in terms of its percentage of women representatives in Congress.
Women make up about 17% of the elected officials in both the U.S. Senate and House, and only 12% of state governors and 8% of mayors in the country’s 100 largest cities.
A panel of leading women politicians and commentators discussed these sobering statistics in the context of Rep. Todd Akin’s roundly denounced comments on rape and pregnancy during a NOW with Alex Wagner special dedicated to women in politics Monday.
“What’s amazing about these debates on women’s issues is very often the folks debating them are men. How do women take back the debate?” asked host Alex Wagner. “This dialogue that we’re having over rape, over personhood, over defunding Planned Parenthood, seems largely to be conducted by men.”
Guest New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand agreed.
“Clearly if we had 51% of women in Congress we would not be debating whether or not something is a legitimate rape, whether we should be having contraception and whether employers should make that decision,” she said.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican from Texas and also a guest on the show, argued for the need to get back to the issues that matter and called Akin’s comment “outrageous.”
Gillibrand, though, directly pummeled the recent Republican House hearing on birth control as an example of how a lack of women in office is putting women at a disadvantage in these debates over their own bodies.
“What it represents is the lack of women’s voices in our democracy on the level that it should be,” she said. “To have only 17% women in Congress… to have a panel on birth control with—the first one held in the House—to not have one woman being part of that testimony, it shows that women’s voices really aren’t being heard. So if we could have a Rosie the Riveter for our generation that created that call to action asking women to vote, asking women to be heard, to be advocates on the issues they care about, and hopefully more women running.”
Both women officials argued that the “nastiness” fueled in this recent election year in part by super PAC money might be causing women to think twice about running for office.
“One reason is the tenor of politics…it turns women off,” said Hutchison. “They don’t maybe want to get into the nastiness of politics.”