Why Women Are Essential in Legislatures

Male legislators need some help

Welcome back, readers! I hoped you enjoyed Rashi’s article from last week. It was fun getting to swap with another writer and peek into their world.

Before we get into this week’s topic, I want to share this article that my fellow writer Akshi Chalwa wrote about the way that India handles abortion cases. In India, abortion is legal up to 20 weeks. After that, women must petition the court in order to obtain permission. I was struck by how similar the situation is in India as the U.S. In both countries. Although abortion is legal, women are beholden to the “kindness” of men to make decisions for them regarding their pregnancies. And the women in India are striving for the same standard as many American women, let us decide what to do with our own bodies! Take a read and see what you think.

This week, we will look at some of the reasons as to why it is important for women to have equal representation within legislative bodies. But before you get to the article, take THIS SHORT QUIZ to see how much you actually know about the female reproductive system. Don’t cheat and read the article first. And if you are a woman, please share the link with men you know. I am trying to get a large pool of respondents for a future article. Besides, it could make for some interesting conversation!

"Clinton speaks" by Medill DC is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Women know their bodies and needs best. No matter how empathetic a male legislator is toward issues affecting women, he can never understand her full experience. When women do not have a seat at the legislative table, issues affecting their daily lives are frequently sacrificed once the legislative process begins.  Traditionally, the United States has had a paternalistic attitude toward representation where men supposedly know what is good for women. Based on some of the outrageous misunderstandings about the female body that have become public record, we know that simply is not true. How can anyone write or vote for legislation affecting another person’s body when they do not understand how the other person’s body works? We also know that the diversity of any decision-making body plants the seeds for more creativity. The more culturally homogeneous a group is, the less creatively they think. Diversity within our legislative bodies is a standard we must to prioritize in order to generate the largest breadth of creative solutions and to truly represent our society writ large. 

Women as Legislators

Overall, women are more effective legislators than their male counterparts.  They sponsor more bills, pass more laws, and bring home more money to their districts. They also champion issues that are more likely to affect women and families like child care expansion, paid family leave, and legislation around maternal and pregnancy issues. For example, in December 2018, Nevada’s state legislature became 51% female, a first for the state. In the 2019 legislative session, they passed numerous pieces of legislation that were specific to women including making sure that breast and ovarian cancers were included in coverage for firefighters exposed to toxins. They passed laws on paid leave, pay equity, the “Trust women” health bill removing barriers to abortion, and a series of laws regarding sexual assault and domestic violence. It is unlikely that all of these bills would have received enough attention to pass without the lobbying by the female legislators. In fact, history has shown that women’s issues get thrown under the bus when the going gets tough. Remember when Bernie Sanders and Ray Lujan were willing to throw out funding for pro-choice candidates?

Male legislators need some education 

So far, many male legislators have proven that they do not understand how the female body works, yet they still write and pass legislation that has severely detrimental effects on women and girls. Some of the most egregious examples include Representative John Becker of Ohio who thinks that ectopic pregnancies can be reimplanted in the woman’s uterus, or State representative Vito Barbieri of Idaho who wonders aloud if women can swallow a camera to obtain a gynecological exam or former Missouri Representative Todd Akin who thinks that in the case of “legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” According to Tresa Undem, “40% of Republican men voters say it's "true" or are not sure whether "Most women get their periods at the first of the month." It makes women’s heads explode when they read these examples. While every state legislator cannot be an expert on every topic they come across, they should at least make the effort to understand basic biology when passing legislation regarding someone else’s body. By having more women at the table to correct such uneducated thoughts, women can change the conversation to the actual issues at hand. 

Even the most well-meaning male representative makes mistakes because he simply has not had to walk in a woman’s shoes. A few weeks ago, California state assemblywoman Buffy Wicks had to travel from Oakland to Sacramento with her 4-week old jaundiced infant who she breastfeeds. She had requested to vote by proxy due to the pandemic and the fact that she was on maternity leave, but her request was denied. Instead, she had to put her infant in danger of catching COVID-19. This situation generated quite a bit of backlash, and Speaker Anthony Rendon recognized his mistake and genuinely apologized. That situation would most likely never happen if a woman had been the speaker, as most women understand how childbirth, delivery, and breastfeeding affect both the woman and the child. 

Moving Forward

As election day approaches, make sure that you know and understand the views of the candidates who will be making decisions regarding your bodily autonomy whether you are male or female. Reflect on the importance of having a legislature that mirrors our full societal makeup. Challenge yourself to vote for a candidate from a different culture or gender identification. Ask them hard questions via email or Twitter to elicit answers that let you know that they have been keeping up with science.  And if all else fails, give them the quiz from the beginning of this email! 

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