Where are the women?

thomascongressIn 2012, the subject of birth control and health insurance was all the rage — and I mean it when I say “rage.”

So when the House Government and Oversight Committee held a hearing on health insurance and contraception with an all-male panel, people were outraged.

"When I look at this panel, I don't see one single woman representing the tens of millions of women across the country who want and need insurance coverage for basic, preventative health care services, including family planning," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.   download-022114   Maloney, along with many others, then demanded, “Where are the women?”

Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, had been slated to testify before the committee but was denied, leaving five male panelists to talk about women’s reproductive health.

Fluke then became a household name after the right wing’s slug-in-residence Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut” and a “prostitute” on air for her vocal support of expanding insurance coverage for contraception.

Leaving aside Limbaugh’s obvious plague of idiocy, his comments vaulted Fluke to front-page news. She went on to campaign for President Barack Obama’s re-election and was a featured speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Earlier this year, Fluke announced she was considering running for a seat in Congress, but she decided to seek a California Senate seat instead.

“While I strongly considered offering my candidacy for Congress, I feel there is a better way to advance the causes that are important to our community,” Fluke said.

Politico Magazine’s Robin Marty wrote that Fluke’s potential candidacy for Congress “was widely seen as a sign that social justice and advocacy issues would get more champions in D.C. and that millennial activism could finally get a seat at the table.”

Many spectators, including myself, are sure Fluke would have a fighting chance at California’s fairly liberal 33rd district, which includes parts of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.

Why did Fluke pick a state senate race when she could have gone to Congress?

A report from the Center for American Women in Politics suggests that women “focus their political involvement at the local level or in positions that match their stereotypic strengths.”

In other words, women are less likely than men to consider running for office in the first place, and first-time male candidates are more likely than first-time female candidates to “jump straight into federal offices.”

This explains why only women comprise a mere (yet all-time high) 18 percent of Congress — or does it?

Why are there so few women in Congress? Why is it so hard to find a female panelist to testify before Congress on issues affecting primarily women?

Is it because voters are sexist and don’t want female representatives and senators? No. It’s all about deciding to run.

Like many other things, agency is paramount. You can’t force someone to run for an office they have no interest in or do not feel qualified enough to occupy.

We would, however, be better off as a country if more women were in Congress, in governorships, in state legislatures, in the Cabinet, even in the White House.

Research has shown women are better politicians on certain measures than their male counterparts. Women tend to be more practical, collaborative and productive in public office. They bring more federal money and projects to their districts, sponsor and co–sponsor more legislation — and that legislation tends to be more popular.

That’s not to say women are more suited to public office than men, but that those women who do run and win tend to be better than some male candidates who run for the hell of it.

Men and women are equally suited to representing constituents. Fluke and whoever does end up running for California’s 33rd Congressional District would likely be equally as qualified for that seat.

But Congress needs more women.

If not Sandra Fluke, then who?

Reach the columnist at skthoma4@asu.edu or follow her on Twitter @savannahkthomas

Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.