With Justice Rebecca Dallet’s April 3 victory, the Wisconsin Supreme Court took a huge step — the court now holds six female justices and just one male justice, making Wisconsin home to the nation’s highest percentage of women on a state supreme court. Nationally, only about 36 percent of state supreme court justices are women, and aside from Wisconsin, just 10 other states have female-majority courts.
But don’t be fooled — Wisconsin hasn’t achieved idyllic gender parity just yet. According to The Cap Times, no other political offices in the state have achieved the same level of success. Last year, women made up just a quarter of the state Legislature and only 19 percent of circuit court judges were women.
The increasingly recognizable organization Emerge Wisconsin tries to reverse this trend by coaching women so that they are equipped to run for political office.
Emerge has achieved great success. The Cap Times reported in April’s election, 74 percent of the women trained by Emerge won their respective races. According to the article, executive director of Emerge Erin Forrest said the reason there are fewer women in office has nothing to do with their abilities — when women run for election, they win at the same rates as men. The issue, according to Forrest, is that women are less likely to run for office in the first place.
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This initiative, which encourages women to hone the skills they already have and pursue political careers, is empowering and encouraging. But a question stands: Why is this initiative being led by the Democratic party? Where is the Republican party in all of this?
Wisconsin’s Democratic women have accused Gov. Scott Walker and his administration of “leaving women out and leaving them behind,” while Republicans, such as Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, have lauded Walker’s governance for supporting women. But here’s the unfortunate truth. Despite Vukmir’s claims “Wisconsin women win with Walker,” the reality is, women don’t win with any Republicans, in any state.
States that are traditionally fiercely Republican, such as Alabama, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming, show even lower percentages of women than the national 25 percent — about 15 percent, 18 percent, 20 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
What’s more, even in those majority-Republican states, the women in the legislatures, on balance, tend to be Democrats. Let’s take another look at Alabama. Of the 34 Alabama senators (Alabama has 35 seats, but one is currently vacant), four are women. Of those four women, three are Democrats, and the other one is an Independent. We see a similar trend in Wisconsin: Of the eight women in Wisconsin’s 33-seat state Senate, six of them are Democrats and just two are Republicans. In fact, this trend pervades across the country, of the 1,843 women in state legislatures, about two-thirds are Democrats.
Last year, the Wisconsin State Journal published a feature about why Wisconsin has so few Republican female legislators, citing a dearth in the state Senate, congressional districts, governor’s office (which has never housed a woman), and the federal senatorial delegation, which has never had a Republican woman.
The article suggests a few reasons for the scarcity of women, particularly within the Republican party, chief among these being, “Republicans generally reject identity politics, the idea that groups of voters deserve representation.” We hear this a lot — Republicans talking about rejecting identity politics, calling for Democrats to “drop identity politics” and asserting that identity politics ruined the Democratic party.
But assertions like these are the equivalent to the infamous “All Lives Matter” movement. A Washington Post analyst asked whether “calling for an end to identity politics is, in itself, identity politics? After all, isn’t a distinct group — white, heterosexual, Christian male — now demanding to be seen and heard?” In essence, Republicans do actually like identity politics, it’s just that they only like one identity.
Gender equality shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and Republicans like to claim it isn’t, but at the end of the day, it really is. The Wisconsin State Journal suggested another reason why Republican women don’t have much political success in Wisconsin is “It’s harder for Republican women to win increasingly partisan primary elections, in part because they are perceived as moderate and the GOP is moving to the right.”
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Translation: further to the right means more misogyny. Moving toward the left means less misogyny. It’s that simple. Republicans have long been criticized by liberals for their War on Women as Republicans have passed legislation limiting women’s access to healthcare, complicating prosecution of offenders in cases of violence against women, and made equal pay more difficult (remember Walker’s repeal of Wisconsin’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act?).
Returning to the question about Republican women in politics, I can think of two explanations. The first is that perhaps, Republican women are not terribly excited about their party’s anti-women legislation, so they do not feel particularly galvanized to publicly support their party. The second reason is that maybe, Republican women feel so strongly about their party’s anti-women values that they agree — women should just stay home.
There have been efforts to recruit more Republican women into politics, but they have not been as successful as programs like Emerge. Given that, Emerge and similar Democratically-led leaders should step up. As Republican women start seeming more and more moderate, it would be politically savvy for Democrats also become a bit more moderate and meet Republican women in the middle, so as to recruit Republican women into a party that will actually support them.
The numbers speak for themselves — the Republican party does not support women and Republican women seem to know it. And while gender parity shouldn’t be a controversial, partisan issue (I mean really, it shouldn’t be so controversial to assert that everybody should have the same rights and be treated with the same amount of respect as everybody else), it really has been an issue divided over party lines. As such, Democrats need to continue to lead the charge in the fight for gender equality, at least until Republicans have as much respect for women as they presently pretend to.
Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in math with a certificate in Chinese.