Experts discuss role of women in 2012 election

Emily Mongan

Is 2012 the year of the woman?

With record numbers of females running for Congress and debate on women’s health issues filling headlines, the media are proclaiming it “the year of the woman.” Again.

American University associate professor Jennifer Lawless came to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on Tuesday to speak and field questions about the state of women in politics.

In her speech, Lawless outlined why labeling it “the year of the woman” made sense, but overall she disagreed that it was appropriate.

A record-breaking 297 women filed to run in the 2012 U.S. congressional elections. This historical amount of women running for Congress is one of the reasons, Lawless said, 2012 could possibly be considered the year for women.

However, Lawless said, 2012 might not be that special, or even the first time the media bestowed the title.

The 1992 election year had similar conditions to today’s political climate — female candidates running for Congress, women’s issues and voter dissatisfaction with the administration — and was originally dubbed “the year of the woman.”

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said she believes a true “year of the woman” was 1972, the year she was first elected, when the number of women serving in the state Legislature jumped from one to six.

Lawless said the remaining gaps in the number of women serving in government compared to men and the proportional difference in political ambition between the genders are reasons why 2012 is not remarkable.

She attributed the ambition gap to juggling raising a family and a full-time job in politics could be considered a “third job” that many don’t want to take on.

Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL- Minneapolis, agreed that the gap could be due to women choosing to put their family before a political career.

“If you’re the primary person taking care of the kids, it does impact the family,” Dziedzic said. “No matter who runs, it impacts the family, but with women I think they’re more aware of that, and there’s just more of a process to get to running.”

Although experts may not call 2012 the year of the woman for various reasons, women’s reproductive health has emerged as a key topic of debate in both the congressional and presidential elections.

Stacy Doepner-Hove, president of the Minnesota Chapter of the League of Women Voters, said discussions about women’s health can be beneficial in drawing women to the polls.

“We’ve had the same kind of discussion with our organization about making sure women are involved in whatever debates or discussion come out, especially when it involves our health,” Doepner-Hove said.

“No matter what side of any particular issue a woman voter comes down on, I think that having issues that are directly relevant to one’s life out in the public eye helps to make people realize how important the vote is.”

But, as Lawless said, dubbing 2012 “the year of the woman” for coverage of women’s issues and the increased number of female candidates holds women back in politics instead of moving them forward.

“I would argue that this isn’t the year of the woman. I would say that 2012 is the year of ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’” Lawless said.

University political science professor Kathryn Pearson, who moderated the Humphrey event, agreed with Lawless, and objected to the term “year of the woman” for its implication that success of female candidates can only be tied to a certain year.

“Ideally, women