Stephanie Schriock, the President of Emily’s List, wrote an essay this week to assert the need for the election of Democratic women in particular, not Democratic women and men or progressive women and men, in order for issues that she sees as particularly women’s issues to be resolved in a progressive manner. Her argument can be summed up in three steps:
1. “Every now and then in this job, I get asked why it matters that we elect more Democratic women to Congress, as opposed to more progressives, or just more Democrats.”
2. “Because the GOP is doing everything it can to take away our access to health care, our ability to plan and care for a family, and our opportunities to make successful, safe, and healthy lives for ourselves and our families. Women – and men – are speaking out against it.”
3. “Anyone can make the argument that cutting funding for cancer screenings will undoubtedly cost us countless lives and dollars. We can make the argument that cutting access to family planning hurts women who want to plan families. We can lay out in bar graphs and pie charts how cutting Head Start means paying exponentially more down the road. And we can say that redefining rape to distinguish between “forcible” and otherwise, makes no sense at all.
But the best arguments come from the women who have seized the opportunities Republicans are trying to take away, made the decisions they’re trying to limit, and used the preventative services they’re trying to defund.”
The reasons in #2 and #3 are no reason at all to “elect more Democratic women to Congress, as opposed to more progressives, or just more Democrats.” As Schriock states herself, “Anyone can make the argument” about policy issues that impact women, and “Women – and men – are speaking out against” Republican gender-related policies.
One claim Schriock makes — that “the best arguments come from” the women who are affected by the Republicans’ policy changes — can’t be empirically tested, since it is a matter of opinion as to who is making “the best arguments” against the Republicans’ policy changes. Schriock might claim that the Democratic and liberal men in Congress are lousy argument-makers, but without a metric to measure rhetorical lousiness by, there’s really no way to empirically test that claim.
Conceptually speaking, Schriock’s assertions in this regard are weak. In her essay, she asserts that women are the ones with experience in regard to cancer, families, the education of children and sexual assault, and that they therefore must be better speakers on policies related to them. It is true that women are sexually assaulted more often than men. But men suffer from cancer. Men have families and are part of making them. Men have children. Schriock’s conception of gender as something that only women have is a really old-fashioned idea: each of the above subjects (excepting cancer, which is oddly placed in her essay) mostly stems from the relationship between men and women, which means men play a role as well. Indeed, as our conceptions of family and parenthood expand in America, there are families in which parenting occurs without women at all and there is an increasing number of women who do not have children or families of their own.
The implications of Schriock’s old-fashioned thinking, if it were to be practically applied, are absurd: should the disproportionate number of women politicians who don’t have children not be recruited to run for higher office, since they wouldn’t have the experience to talk about families and childrens’ education? Is Tammy Baldwin an illegitimate voice for women’s experience because she is a lesbian? After all, she doesn’t have children or a family? I don’t think that’s a fair point, but it is a point that follows from Schriock’s thinking. Also following from Schriock’s thinking would be screening out women from candidacy who haven’t had cancer or who haven’t been raped, because they wouldn’t be able to share anecdotes from their lives. Do we really want to go there?
If we follow what our Representatives DO in Washington, then we have a metric by which we can judge the relative performance of women and men. In her essay, Schriock puts forward H.R. 3, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act as an example of anti-woman legislation. Let’s take Schriock’s example of H.R. 3 and ask this question: If we pay attention to what members of Congress do, does it make sense to “elect more Democratic women to Congress, as opposed to more progressives, or just more Democrats”?
H.R. 3 has not yet been considered on the floor of the House, but it has gained 212 official supporters — the primary sponsor Republican Chris Smith and 211 cosponsors. Among the cosponsors, how many of them are women? How many are Democratic women? How many are progressive women? How many of the cosponsors are men, Democratic men, progressive men?
The following are the women in the House of Representatives who are among the 212 official supporters of H.R. 3:
Michele Bachmann, Republican
Diane Black, Republican
Marsha Blackburn, Republican
Ann Marie Buerkle, Republican
Renee Ellmers, Republican
Jo Ann Emerson, Republican
Virginia Foxx, Republican
Kay Granger, Republican
Vicky Hartzler, Republican
Lynn Jenkins, Republican
Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republican
Candice Miller, Republican
Sue Myrick, Republican
Kristi Noem, Republican
Martha Roby, Republican
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican
Jean Schmidt, Republican
Not one Democratic Party woman in the House of Representatives has cosponsored H.R. 3.
To measure whether a member of Congress is “progressive,” let’s look at House congressional action scores from That’s My Congress for the 112th Congress. That’s My Congress calls a member “liberal” if they have a score of at least 20, “moderately liberal” if they have a score of at least 40, and “strongly liberal” if they have a score of at least 70. Measured this way, not a single progressive woman in Congress has cosponsored H.R. 3.
What about the men? There are a lot of men in Congress who have sponsored or cosponsored H.R. 3, 195 of them to be exact. But only 10 of those men are Democrats. They are (listed with their congressional action score):
A larger number of House women who are Republicans than House men who are Democrats support H.R. 3. That makes political party a better predictor of support for H.R. 3 than gender. The best predictor of support for H.R. 3 is “progressiveness”, the very quality that Stephie Schriock says is insufficient for promoting women’s interests in legislation. Not one member of Congress who scores as a liberal has come out in support of H.R. 3: not one liberal woman, and not one liberal man.
Committee Action: What Have They Done?
Some might say that cosponsorship isn’t the best measure of political action in the Congress. Indeed, Stephanie Schriock has pointed to committee action in her essay, vaguely declaring that a lot of “bunk” was said and not challenged during Judiciary Committee proceedings. Let’s look at Judiciary Committee proceedings more than vaguely and see what legislative actions were taken.
In yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee markup of H.R. 3 before it was sent to the House floor, there were 14 amendments offered by Democratic committee members to try and blunt the force of H.R. 3. 9 of the amendments to weaken H.R. 3 were introduced by men, 5 by women. All Republican Representatives on the committee who were present (including woman Rep. Sandy Adams) voted against these amendments; All Democratic Representatives who were present (including 10 men) voted for the amendments. With all the amendments rejected, the Judiciary Committee then voted to send H.R. 3 to the floor for a final vote on passage. All Republican Representatives on the committee who were present (including woman Rep. Sandy Adams) voted against these amendments; All Democratic Representatives who were present (including 10 men) voted for the amendments.
As with cosponsorship of H.R. 3 — the bill that Stephanie Schriock picked as her exemplar — committee votes on H.R. 3 turn out to be better understood along party lines than along gender lines.
“Every now and then in this job, I get asked why it matters that we elect more Democratic women to Congress, as opposed to more progressives, or just more Democrats.” Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock raised the question, but the answer seems to be that it actually doesn’t matter, at least if your motivation is to see progressive congressional action on policies of interest to women. The only reason left over for the election of “more Democratic women, as opposed to more progressives,” is an interest in seeing the number of women in Congress rise for its own sake, a motivation unrelated to policy.
Is the prioritization of gonads over policy what Emily’s List stands for? Ask Stephanie Schriock.