Have we arrived at the point where we are gender-blind as well as race-neutral in American politics? This morning I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire who earlier this month unseated incumbent Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) whom she ran against and lost to six years ago.
Although I Googled her name and accomplishments, I could find no mention of the fact she's the first woman in U.S. history to be elected senator and governor—a major barrier broken, but overshadowed nonetheless by the euphoria surrounding President-elect Barack Obama's White House win.
In any event, I interviewed her for my PBS program, To the Contrary, and asked her about the historicity of her victory. She said:
"Well, I think we need to see more women running, more women involved in politics, and I certainly think we saw that in this election year. And the more we see of that, the more it's going to change things in the future. My hope is—and I have three daughters—is that we get to the point where whether you're a man or a woman is not the issue. It's how you stand on what you're trying to do. What your experience and accomplishments have been and what you want to do on the issues and what I think really matters."
Senator-elect Shaheen is the expert, but I beg to differ. Are we living in a post-gender world? Absolutely not! Women will comprise 17 percent of the U.S. Senate next year—a paucity compared with their majority of the U.S. population. Same in the U.S. House.
But shortly thereafter Sen.-elect Shaheen did agree that women make a difference when they're elected to office:
"Our experiences are different. The critical the thing is that I didn't get elected as a woman. I got elected as someone who was going to work to change things for the people of New Hampshire. And I think that's what I think we're all working toward this session."
That's great and we all look forward to a gender-blind political climate. But the fact is, Senator-elect Shaheen won with 60 percent of the women's vote, and Senator Sununu lost with 53 percent of men's votes.
So if women had not supported her as resoundingly as they did, she would not be reporting to duty in Washington, D.C. next year.