Women Listen by Amy Miller
Women’s participation in the processes of politics and governance is critical for many reasons. One is that representative governance is most fair and effective when the diversity in its composition mirrors the makeup of the society it rules. Thus, since about half the population of the United States is women, women should hold about half of all elected and appointed federal posts, that is, half of all federal cabinet appointments; half the seats in Congress; half the federal judgeships; etc. Beyond the numbers and statistics, there are more abstract reasons to desire increased participation of and representation by women. While there are exceptions to every rule, some evidence suggests men are more courteous and polite in the presence of women than when only with other men. Women tend to be more win-win, compromise-oriented while men often approach negotiation as a competition with clear winners and losers. Women are more likely than men to respond to emotional drivers and to bring empathy, compassion and altruism into the debate and factorthem into decision-making. The bottom line is that women, whether by biology or by societal conditioning, approach issues and solve problems differently from men. Those differences are important and should be brought to bear at all levels of government because when reduced to its purest essence, the job of government is to solve problems.Over the next several months, the Institute for Women in Politics’ monthly Guestview will examine specific examples of how women, through these differences in problem-solving approach and process, have affected outcomes in politics and government Given recent events, it seems fitting to begin with the notion of compromise and the story of the female senators credited within ending the government shutdown of 2013.On Oct. 8, 2013, seven days into a 17-day government shutdown, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) went to the Senate floor and asked her Democratic and Republican colleagues to come together to“legislate responsibly and in good faith.” She was soon joined by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland), then-chair of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, who expressed her willingness to compromise, and then by Sen.Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
This show of bipartisanship was carefully choreographed for effect, but the wheels actually began turning the night before when most of the Senate’s 20 women had gathered for pizza, salad and wine at the office of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire). Such gatherings of the “women’s club” had become a regular occurrence based on the belief that more united the women personally than divided them political-ly.Over pizza, Collins laid out a plan tore open the government with some basic compromises. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) proposed adding the repeal of an unpopular medical device tax to the legislation. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, suggested pulling revenue from a stalled farm bill. Others be-gan tossing their own proposals and compromises into the mix of what Time Magazine referred to at the time as a“policy potluck dinner.”Word of the discussions got out and attracted several male senators. Eventually, the dinner party negotiations gave way to a delegation of 14 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, six of them women, who crafted the deal that was ultimately finalized by and named for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.“Leadership, I must fully admit, was provided primarily from women in the Senate,” said Sen. John McCain at the time. “Imagine what they could do if there were 50 of them.”Why did this woman-led bipartisan effort work? Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota) summed it up best. “One of the things we [women] do a bit better is listen,” she said. “It’s about getting people in a room with different life experiences who will look at things a little differently because they’re moms, be-cause they’re daughters taking care of senior moms, because they have different life experiences [to draw from] thana lot of the senior guys in the room.”Next month, the story of Mary McLeod Bethune.
Amy Miller is immediate past president of the Institute for Women in Politics of Northwest Florida. This Guest-view is offered on behalf of the IWPBoard of Directors. To inquire about membership in the Institute, email firstname.lastname@example.org