The Trump administration has brought out previously unheard of levels of contempt from women. some are now asking what the future for women in U.S. politics looks like. Given the recent level of activity at the Women’s March on Washington and now the “Day Without A Woman” strike, it’s plausible to think there may be a Year of the Woman, part two, in electoral politics.
The Year of the Woman refers to the growth of women in the United States Senate in 1992, following Clarence Thomas’ judicial confirmation hearings in 1991. Thomas was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, his supervisee at the Department of Education at the time. Hill was questioned in Senate hearings, where many women across the country felt she was treated unfairly and male Senators did not take her case seriously. During the hearings, there were only two female Senators and neither sat on the Senate Judiciary Committee that oversaw the Hill trial.
In 1992, four female Senators were elected: one incumbent, and three newly elected, a record high. Going from two to five female Senators may not seem like that big of a difference, but it more than doubled the female presence, and sent a message to men across the nation that women would not be silenced. “The Year of the Woman was purely a reaction,” said Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine, “a reaction that no one has been able to replicate thus far.”
A leaked audio recording dubbed the “Trump Tape,” where the President discusses sexually assaulting a woman because of his fame, came out in the last few weeks of the 2016 election. The tape outraged many and stunned even devoted Republicans. Most political analysts declared it would be the end of the Trump campaign on sight. Sexual assault is typically a widely agreed upon issue, regardless of class, race, or party affiliation.
When American women saw Anita Hill take the stand in 1991, they saw themselves. In the 2016 election, 54 percent of women did vote for Hillary Clinton, but unlike 1992, race did affect the way women reacted. About 62 percent of white, non-college-educated women and 44 percent of college-educated white women voted for Trump.
The statistical significance of white women voting for Trump makes intersectionality of movements like the Women’s March on Washington even more crucial.
The Women’s March was organized by three women of color: Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory, and Carmen Perez, and it was the most attended political march of all time.
“I think white women going to the march saw that they were no longer the face of feminism, that Hillary Clinton hadn’t mobilized women the way we had hoped, and that things are different now,” said Angevine. “Inclusivity matters. If there is a Year of the Woman, part two, it has to include young women, low income women, and women of color.”
Although there is still a long way to go before the midterm elections in 2018, there’s hope that the current momentum will carry through. “When you have a greater stake in the situation, you’re less likely to withdraw altogether.” said Angevine. Interest groups like Vote Run Lead, She Should Run, and EMILY’s List have already begun recruiting for 2018. Furthermore, groups like Wellstone Action are looking to rebuild the political pipeline by helping women get the jobs and connections that yield the greatest amount of candidates.
The Year of the Woman happened because women decided to put aside their fear of running for office and instead focus on the fear of what might happen if they didn’t. The similarities between these situations are striking, and as the Trump administration continues to implement policies that are detrimental to women, like defunding Planned Parenthood, women are in constant fear.