IN A NOVEMBER 10 ARTICLE for The Guardian, A Black Man in the White House author Cornell Belcher calls Donald Trump’s electoral victory an “inevitable” response to the last eight years, saying that the GOP candidate “took full advantage of a racial backlash to the presidency of Barack Obama.” Belcher’s observation is one that commentators have been making since Trump launched his startlingly successful campaign last year: that an authoritarian nationalist — the polar opposite of the mild-mannered community organizer — is the next “logical” nadir of the political pendulum.
The Obamas are still the First Family of the United States, but the President-elect’s victory has already inspired a backlash of its own. Trump’s win has inspired women to run for office in droves. Robbed of our first female president, women — particularly young women and women of color — across the country are organizing political campaigns for local government positions in 2018 and 2020. Westworld actor Jeffrey Wright’s wish is coming true: Trump’s election has already begun to “bring forth the fiercest, smartest, toughest generation of ass-kicking women this country could possibly imagine.”
Today, it’s not uncommon to see three women competing for big bucks on the nation’s biggest game show, but I can remember when women were rare sights on Jeopardy!. In fact, I distinctly remember Alex Trebek — still mustachioed at the time — telling the audience that women didn’t compete on Jeopardy! because they simply did not audition in as great numbers as men. That little memory has been on my mind a lot in the weeks since Hillary Clinton conceded the 2016 presidential election. It’s almost as if hearing Trebek’s statement gave smart women the push they needed to try out for the game show, years after Dorothy Zbornak tried out, only to learn that Jeopardy! doesn’t want nasty women.
Almost immediately, Trump’s win prompted an uptick in participation with Emily’s List, a political action committee focused on “ignit[ing] change by getting pro-choice Democratic women elected to office.” In the month following the 2016 general election, Emily’s List received $770,000 in donations, with more than one-third of those funds coming from first-time donors.
Likewise, She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to inspiring and training women to run for office, has also seen a surge in public interest. The org allows women to sign their friends up through its Ask a Woman to Run for Office program, and supports politically-minded women through its Incubator. As of December 12, She Should Run has received responses from over 4,500 women interested in mounting their own political campaigns in the coming years.
This renewed interest in women’s political participation isn’t unprecedented, as Georgetown University’s Michele L. Swers tells The Washington Post. In 1991, law professor Anita Hill came forward to testify that Clarence Thomas, the man nominated to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court, had sexually harassed her when she worked for him at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the 1980s. Hill testified before an all-white, all-male Senate Judiciary Committee in a widely televised event that ultimately put her on trial, in spite of the fact that everyone present had gathered to discuss whether or not Thomas was fit to serve on the Supreme Court.
Thomas’ confirmation and Hill’s mistreatment by the committee sparked a nationwide surge in women’s political participation. In 1992, four women — Patty Murray (D-WA), Carol Moseley Braun (D-IL), and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer (both D-CA) — were elected to the Senate, making it the most estrogen-saturated it had ever been: six percent. The number of women in the House of Representatives increased by almost 68 percent, rocketing from 28 to 47. This backlash against Thomas’ confirmation hearings prompted the media dub 1992 “The Year of the Woman.”
Today, “women in Congress haven’t escaped their role as ‘historic figures,'” as The Atlantic points out. The highest glass ceiling in the country has yet to be broken, and the U.S. lags behind other developed countries when it comes to women’s participation in politics. The five countries with the highest number of women in parliamentary positions are Rwanda, Bolivia, Andorra, Cuba, and South Africa, but the U.S. is hardly a blip on the radar. From Pew Research Center:
The U.S. ranks an unimpressive 33rd when it comes to women in the national legislature, among 49 “high-income” countries (defined as those with per-capita incomes above $12,615). Among a larger group of 137 countries with data available, the U.S. ranked just 83rd. (The data in the WEF report are as of May 2014, but even if the figures for the current 114th Congress were used the U.S. would only rise to about 75th place.)
We need more women in politics. Period, full-stop. The presidential glass ceiling is high and thick, but it is not shatterproof. If it takes suffering through Donald Trump’s presidency to see women dominate American politics and ascend to the nation’s loftiest office, so be it.