Men Should Serve on the House Women's Policy Committee

Having men serve on the GOP House Women's Policy Committee could in fact be a teachable opportunity.

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Republican congresswoman Renee Ellmers, R-NC, and Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., answers questions during campaign event at Partnership for Defense Innovation in Fayetteville, N.C., Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012.

The Republican Party is clearly having trouble winning the votes of women, and party elders, to their credit, recognize that. And as part of the effort to pay attention to so-called "women's issues," the Republican Women's Policy Committee in the House is prepared to allow men to join as associate members, Roll Call reports.

The idea was immediately derided by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which wondered (rightly) whether the panel would need to let in men if they were actually able to elect more GOP women to the House. That's a fair question, but it doesn't mean it's a bad idea to have men sit on the committee. In fact, it may be just what Congress needs.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

There's a certain bond-building advantage to having women (or racial or ethnic minorities) have their own caucuses and policy meetings. Congress is still overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white, and it's a good idea for such minority groups (minority, of course, in terms of their numbers in Congress) to get together and talk about the best way to advance their agendas. And having a female-only group avoids the problem of the men – who are historically accustomed to being in charge – trying to take over the group or dominate the conversation.

But we've gotten past that on the Hill, and having men on the women's policy committee could in fact be a teachable opportunity. There are issues some of the male members might not recognize – not because they're sexist, necessarily, but because the issues are ones that don't touch their daily lives. It would be good for them to listen to their female colleagues discuss them.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Secondly, it's not a requirement that one be female to advance an agenda important to women. Joe Biden was one of the most consistent and determined advocates for women when he was a U.S. Senator, pushing the historic Violence Against Women Act and other legislation. Nor does having men on the panel make women appear weak. This is not like my college days, when we had "Take Back the Night" marches to protest rape. Some of our male fellow students wanted to march with us, purportedly out of solidarity (though most of us suspected, and some of them conceded, that they thought it was a good way to meet women). But that merely undermined the point of the marches – that we wanted to make it clear we were not going to be made afraid to be out at night without a male escort or protection.

Legislative policy does not fall into this category. Men as well as women vote on bills in the House, and it can only help if some of the men are forced to listen to their female colleagues talk in depth about what they want. It's not a step backwards for women – it's a sign of progress. The progress will not be complete, however, until more GOP (and Democratic) women are recruited to run and elected to office.

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