“I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore”
— Helen Reddy and Ray Burton, “I Am Woman”
But the numbers of South Carolina women in elective office are too little to ignore.
Sure, we have a woman governor.
However, there are only 21 women in the S.C. House and only one in the S.C. Senate. That gives us a paltry 12.9 percent woman’s touch in our state Legislature — second lowest in the nation behind Louisiana’s 11.8 percent.
And in the Nov. 5 municipal elections here, there’s just one woman among Mount Pleasant’s five mayoral candidates and none among its eight Town Council candidates. There are three women among the 11 Charleston City Council candidates.
Though both the U.S. House and Senate have record-high female ranks, Congress is still less than 20 percent women.
Why, nearly a century after American women got the right to vote, aren’t those numbers higher?
One obvious answer: Few women hold elective office because few women seek it. It’s like the lottery. You’ve got to play to win.
Other answers, depending upon whom you ask, focus on culture, economics and vestiges of a repressive patriarchy.
What about biology? Are men more naturally inclined to pursue political power?
As James Brown, aka “The Godfather of Soul,” put it, “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”
That didn’t stop Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, chair of the Democratic National Committee, from making this shutdown-stopping claim Monday on MSNBC:
“If we put all the women, Republican and Democrat, in the House together, the consensus from all of us is that we would get this done in a few hours.”
And last month Ted Turner reprised one of his fix-the-world themes by telling the International Women’s Earth and Climate Summit in New York that men should be barred from political office for 100 years.
Yet Turner’s son Teddy finished fourth in the 1st Congressional District Republican primary in March.
Then Elizabeth Colbert Busch, who won the Democratic primary, got 45 percent of the vote in May against Republican Mark Sanford in the heavily GOP district.
OK, so she still lost — and women still lack clout in elective office.
But they pack plenty of it in determining who wins office. According to the Roper Center at the University of Connecticut, President Barack Obama lost the men’s vote to Mitt Romney by a 52 percent to 45 percent count last year. Obama won his second term due to a strong 55 percent to 44 percent edge among women, boosting him to a 51 percent to 47 percent overall margin.
For some of us conservatives, such familiar gender-gap numbers bring to mind a persisting puzzle from gifted lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, to a catchy tune written by Frederick Loewe, in “My Fair Lady.”
Professor Henry Higgins wagers that he can transform scruffy street flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a refined lady. But later, in the song “A Hymn to Him,” Higgins vents exasperation with not just Eliza but her inscrutable gender:
“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historic’ly fair”
The right to choose
Then again, why be so hasty to typecast, politically and otherwise, on the basis of gender, race, income, region, etc.?
The political left includes men. The political right includes women — including our Gov. Nikki Haley.
Think Haley’s rough on organized labor?
Recall the inspiring union-busting example set by my favorite female politician — Margaret Thatcher.
As prime minister from 1979-90, she rallied her Conservative Party back from the brink of oblivion and Britain’s economy back from socialism’s costly folly. “The Iron Lady” even chose to wage — and win — the Falklands War against Argentina.
Much closer to home, ponder the many women who will watch the manly football spectacles of No. 11 South Carolina at Tennessee today and No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson tonight.
Also ponder, though, the ugly shame of our state being No. 1 in the rate of women murdered by men.
At least women in our state and nation have it much fairer than they did not so long ago.
And at least “My Fair Lady” endures — including this time-tested advice from Eliza’s conniving dad:
“The gentle sex was made for man to marry,
To share his nest and see his food is cooked.
The gentle sex was made for man to marry — but
With a little bit of luck,
With a little bit of luck,
You can have it all and not get hooked.”
And with a little bit of luck, my wife won’t read that.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.