March is Women's History Month and March 8th is International Women's Day. This year, I am commemorating these celebrations by honoring the new and diverse female voices in the United States Congress.
I hope that this month, and every month, you will join me in empowering the women and girls in your life to realize their full potential.
"I raise up my voice — not so I can shout,
but so that those without a voice can be heard.
We cannot succeed when half of us are held back."
— Malala Yousafzai
Honoring the 'Women of our Time'
We are currently witnessing a gender revolution, what some may call social upheaval — I like to call it a long time coming. The election of Donald Trump in 2016 has ignited many, peeling away at the apathy that many in the progressive movement have deferred to. This new wave of political engagement, especially among women, has sparked movements across the country calling for transparency in government, justice for victims of sexual violence and a push to bring more women into positions of power in our governing bodies.
From the Women’s March to #MeToo and March for Our Lives, women are speaking out and for once it feels like people are listening. In November, we saw 117 women elected to Congress, bringing the total number to 127 women serving in the 116th Congress. This new class is younger and more diverse than ever, their election takes a significant step forward in ensuring that our representatives look like the people they represent.
It is difficult to put into words the pride and awe that I felt watching these women enter the State of the Union last month, dressed in white, making a nod to the Suffragettes who had come before them. This new class of female leaders welcomes a new chapter in our nation’s history, and is representative of the expanding cracks in the durable, and what feels like immortal, glass ceiling.
Each year in March, we celebrate Women’s History Month, a time to honor and celebrate trailblazers who paved the way for future women to excel and lead. So commonly, we highlight the Susan B. Anthonys and Eleanor Roosevelts of the women’s movement. In recent years, Women’s History Month has begun to recognize the contributions of women in marginalized communities, too long overlooked by history.
On International Women’s Day, the City of New York announced it would add statues of four pioneering women in the boroughs where they once called home. The installment of these statues will bring New York one step closer in closing the gender gap in the city’s public art. The statues will honor Billie Holiday, Elizabeth Jennings Graham, Dr. Helen Rodríguez Trías and Katherine Walker.
This year, we must also celebrate the dynamic women who were launched onto the national stage with historic election wins last November, from Kyrsten Sinema’s momentous win as the first openly bisexual person ever elected to the Senate or Deb Haaland and Sharice David as the first Native American women elected to Congress, to New Jersey’s own Mikie Sherrill, who shattered state fundraising records for U.S. House races.
However, the new female faces of Congress have often been met with criticism, scorn and doubt. When politicians make mistakes, miscalculations or missteps, criticism is valid and warranted. However, the media attention circling our newest female politicos seems unbalanced, as compared to their male counterparts. Instead of focusing on Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s ode to the Breakfast Club, for instance, let us debate her policy ideas and find common ground to combat climate change or dark money in politics. As Arthur Brooks so poignantly stated in his piece, “Our Culture of Contempt”, we do not need to disagree less, we need to disagree better — “disagreement helps us innovate, improve and find the truth.”
Let us applaud the new women of the U.S. Congress and give them the opportunity to lead. In this new political moment, we must celebrate our leaders who speak their minds and use their voices to enact positive change.
When we lift up women, especially those who have garnered national attention, we send a message to girls and women around the world that they have an infantry of supporters who want to see them lead.
Women’s History Month allows us to honor the histories that for so long were excluded from textbooks. Let us honor the Suffragettes who advocated for voting rights, the women of the Civil Rights Movement who pushed for the realization of all rights, and also our newest women in office who are changing American politics as we know it.
The newly elected female members of the U.S. Congress are passionate, resolute and strategic. They bring to the table a diversity of experiences and ideologies; they legislate knowing what it means to grow up poor and homeless, or the difficulties of juggling work and motherhood.
I am confident that if given the chance to lead, they will change the world. The real question is, will we encourage them or stand in their way?
Valerie Vainieri Huttle
Assemblywoman, District 37