New York The suffragists who 90 years ago won voting rights for women would likely shake their heads in wonder at this election, with its “mama grizzly” candidates and high-stakes woman-vs.-woman showdowns.
The women in key races include a rancher and three multimillionaire former CEOs, one a pro wrestling magnate. Two frontier states — Oklahoma and New Mexico — seem assured of electing their first female governor after both major parties nominated women.
Yet in spite of celebrations planned today for Women’s Equality Day, marking the adoption of the 19th Amendment in 1920, American women’s share of high-level political power still lags behind scores of other nations.
Women hold only 17 percent of the seats in Congress — well below Europe’s 22 percent and far behind the Nordic countries’ 42 percent — and the major parties have yet to nominate a woman for president. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2008 collected 18 million votes but still fell short of victory.
“The handful of women that you see near the top is just that — a handful,” said Erin Vilardi of the White House Project, which seeks to expand women’s role in politics.
“At the congressional level, both parties have a hell of a lot of work to do,” Vilardi said. “The culture is still very dominantly male.”
Among the notable developments in this year’s campaign is the emergence of numerous charismatic, conservative women running as Republicans.
In California, wealthy businesswomen Meg Whitman, the ex-CEO of eBay, and Carly Fiorina, ex-CEO of Hewlett-Packard, are the GOP nominees for governor and Senate.
Fiorina is the first Republican woman to take on the Democratic incumbent, Barbara Boxer, since Boxer entered the Senate in 1992, and the race has captured national attention.
In South Dakota, the race for the state’s lone House seat pits the incumbent Democrat, Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, against Republican legislator Kristi Noem — both of them working moms who grew up on farms. Noem, who helps her husband run a ranch, is one of several GOP woman candidates dubbed “mama grizzlies” because of traits shared with Sarah Palin, the party’s 2008 vice presidential nominee and a political star who’s been doling out endorsements this year.
Worldwide, women hold 19 percent of the seats in national legislatures, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Its rankings of 186 nations — based on percentage of women in the single or lower chamber of the legislature — has the U.S. tied for 90th with Turkmenistan.
Women have held the top government post in dozens of countries — including Germany, Britain, Australia, Argentina, Israel, India and Turkey.