Life in 1984

Jonathan Bernstein notes how far women have come in politics since Geraldine Ferraro’s stint as a VP candidate:

There were two women in the Senate, matching the then all-time high. Both were Republicans. Over the three election cycles leading up to 1984, the Democrats nominated a grand total of four women for the U.S. Senate. Currently, 17 women serve in the Senate (12 Democrats).

Governors? There was one woman out of 50 in 1984, a Democrat who had just taken office that year. In the previous three election cycles, the Democrats had nominated a total of three women for governor (and the GOP hadn’t nominated one since 1974). Currently, there are six women servings as governors, down from a high point of nine.

In the House, Ferraro was Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus — the only woman in a leadership role in either party, and one that Democrats had traditionally held by a woman, at least sometimes, since the 1940s; no woman from either party had ever held any other party leadership position in Congress. Nor were any women chairs of a House committee. Nada. Things, of course, are different now (especially for the Democrats).

In 1984, there had been one female Supreme Court Justice ever; there are three now. There had never been a woman at the top of any of the big four cabinet departments (State, Defense, Justice, Treasury).

It’s a huge mistake to understate the gender inequities that exist in 2011. But I think it’s also a huge mistake to underrate the enormous and fairly steady amount of progress that’s been made. The feminist movement over the past forty years is a huge progressive success story in a way that often gets unduly discounted when people talk about the past couple of generations of political life.