Women legislators see examples of statehouse sexism

The South Carolina Legislature this week is considering ending permanent alimony payments while, last week, funding for domestic violence prosecutors was left out of the proposed budget.

A few weeks ago, a Columbia anti-abortion activist sat in a legislative hearing and claimed the Bible says women aren’t fit for public office.

Yeah, the Good Book also says men can sell their daughters into slavery, and that adulterers should be put to death … although the Secret Service might frown upon that.

The point is, Steve Lefemine is not only the early front-runner for 2019 South Carolina numbskull of the year, he’s dead wrong.

We actually should have many more women in politics.

Right now, there are 27 female lawmakers in the General Assembly, including four senators — a record for that chamber. Women account for just shy of 16 percent of the Legislature … although they make up 51 percent of South Carolina’s population.

According to basic math, there should be at least 50 more women in the 170-member General Assembly. But even by abysmal national standards, South Carolina once again lags behind most of the country.

“There definitely needs to be more women in the General Assembly,” says Lynn Teague, a vice president with the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. “It only seems reasonable that it should at least be proportional to the population.”

It’s not only reasonable, it would likely make government run much better.

More substance

The impetus for Lefemine’s meltdown, which included a screed against the evil of feminism, was a photograph.

There was a request to hang a photo of the Legislature’s Women Caucus somewhere in the Statehouse — a building decorated almost exclusively with paintings of old, white men.

So, not a bad idea, but one that was scuttled due to a prohibition against new monuments on the Statehouse grounds.

It was heartening to see a male lawmaker shut down Lefemine’s rant, but then there wasn’t hardly anyone else to do it. Of the 10 members of the committee, there is only one woman.

“Ladies, we can’t let things like this stand in our way,” said Republican Rep. Ann Thayer of Anderson.

The ones who are there now don’t. Although even most Christians say Lefemine crossed the line, standing in the Statehouse passing out anti-abortion literature and generally harassing people, many female legislators used to at least be polite to him.

Now they won’t even look in his direction.

South Carolina has strong women leaders, including our former governor, but there simply aren’t enough to always steer the debate. Otherwise the state probably would spend more time improving social services, health care and education ... and less time playing with flags and guns.

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“There would be much less antler butting, that’s for sure,” Teague says.

Anyone who doubts a woman can compete in a male-dominated political world need only to look up Nancy Pelosi’s resume.

Love her or hate her, no one’s calling her a wimp. Or stupid.

Fewer candidates

The national average for women in state legislatures is about 28 percent — about half of what it should be.

Or 72 percent below acceptable, according to people who think men have sufficiently fouled things up.

The fact that this is even controversial to some people illustrates just how old-fashioned and out of step the country is.

Only one state — Nevada — has a female majority in its Statehouse. A few have as many as 40 percent, but South Carolina ranks in the basement with the likes of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Which leads to legislative committee hearings where rooms full of men sit around opining on female reproduction ... without a single woman on the dais.

Conservatives like Lefemine fear more women in politics would lead to radical policy. After all, before women controlled the Nevada Legislature, holding only 40 percent of the seats, they ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.

Which does nothing except guarantee women are treated the same under the law. Shocking stuff, huh?

It would help if more women actually ran for office. But one study after another says women are less likely to be recruited to run by political parties, less inclined to put themselves through a campaign and sometimes unable to balance politics with home and work demands.

And then there’s the general notion that more women don’t jump into politics because they’re, well, smarter than most men.

But we need to sign more up.

So support South Carolina’s 27 women lawmakers – and, come next election, send them reinforcements.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.