Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Women gain wider access to power

By Hanna Rosin, Special to CNN
November 8, 2012 -- Updated 1726 GMT (0126 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hanna Rosin: The women's vote did not turn out to be historic in this election
  • Rosin: But for the first time, women look less like outsiders in the political process
  • For example, we elected a record number of women to the Senate, she says
  • Rosin: We will debate less about women's image and more about their actual policies

Editor's note: Hanna Rosin is the author of the new book, "The End of Men: And the Rise of Women." She is co-founder of Slate's DoubleX, a web magazine about women issues.

(CNN) -- I almost always get asked the same question: How can it possibly be the "end of men" when there are so few female elected officials -- when men still hold the reins of political power?

It's an excellent question. Until now, I've answered by pointing to statistical trends and future projections. Always, I ask people to take a leap of faith. But after this election, I feel like I am on so much more solid ground.

The women's vote did not turn out to be historic in the way pundits predicted before the election. Yes, more women voted for President Obama, but not in record numbers. The gender gap was in fact a little smaller in this election than in 2008. Yes, women were important in certain states, but so were young people, African-Americans and Latinos, who, together, make up Obama's new winning coalition. What's more, women did not even constitute a unified vote. Married women tended to vote for Romney, while single women went for Obama.

Hanna Rosin
Hanna Rosin

What changed in this election was that women accumulated power in a calm and measured way, and began to look for the first time much less like outsiders to the political process.

New Hampshire, arguably a state populated by the greatest concentration of political insiders and obsessives, gave us our first ever matriarchy -- a delegation of House, Senate and governor that is entirely female. We elected a record number of women to the Senate. One of those new senators is Elizabeth Warren, who over the rest of her career has the potential to embody women's transition from outsider status to right in the thick of things.

McCaskill victorious in Senate race
Baldwin: Change will move us forward

What about the "war on women," the constantly mutating arguments over reproductive rights?

On this, women won handily. In Missouri, Democrat Claire McCaskill ran against Todd Akin, who claimed that in "legitimate rape" the female body shuts down pregnancy. McCaskill not only beat Akin, she trounced him, winning by 16 points. Before the election, when McCaskill was still behind in the polls, women looked beleaguered and marginalized, subjected to lectures by men about their internal plumbing. Afterward, it's those who did the lecturing who seem like fringe, marginalized characters. In fact, practically all the candidates with the improbable Akin-type theories lost. (Check out this scorecard on Jezebel for a complete accounting.)

Once, not all that long ago, women seemed like newcomers to the political scene, alien to its settled ways. Women were scrutinized in their every public move as though they were a newly discovered species. Think back to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Could she be tough enough on China? Soft enough to cry? Would she wear red suits to all her big speeches? If so, what did that mean? Now that the sight of a woman in a roomful of senators is becoming less unusual, our analysis becomes much less crude. Debates about image and optics are ceding to debates about actual policies.

We also realize that women come in all types. More are likely to vote Democratic. Among female voters, more than 50% tend to favor abortion rights. Akin, for example, split the vote among white women. Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann, who is strongly pro-life, kept her seat.

Just as men have wide varieties of views, so do women. Voting as a bloc is something you only do if you're disenfranchised. Voting the way you want is a sign that you're gaining power. The important thing is for women to participate in the political process and speak for themselves.

Workplace studies from the 1970s showed that when women reached a third of an office population, their presence no longer seemed unusual. The Senate will be one-fifth female. We're not there yet, but we're getting close.

In this election, people are still discussing historic firsts -- the first openly lesbian senator (Democrat Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin), the first Asian-American woman (Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii). Slowly, over time, we want these firsts to fade away and for female senators to be elected without that fact alone constituting a news story.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Hanna Rosin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 25, 2014 -- Updated 0633 GMT (1433 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT