One of the biggest messages to come out of the 2012 election is this: Women won.
The election left the country with not just binders full of women, but a U.S. Senate fuller of them. A full 20 percent of the 100 senators in January will be women, 16 Democrats and four Republicans.
Women picked up five of the 33 seats that were contested this year. They lost two of their sisters, Republicans Olympia Snowe of Maine and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas. In the mid-1980s, the only woman in the Senate was Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
All six of the Democratic women who were seeking re-election to the Senate won their races.
Democratic women also made gains in the U.S. House, where Republicans remain the majority party. Women and minorities will make a majority of the Democrats in the House, according to a tally from the office of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
By that count, among the 200 Democrats in the House next year will be 61 women, 43 African-Americans, 27 Hispanics and 10 Asian-Americans. Five will be openly gay, and one is bisexual.
The Democratic caucus doesn’t precisely mirror America, but it’s a lot closer than it used to be.
Women also won a significant symbolic battle in the patriarchal war waged by those who don’t want women making their own decisions about reproductive rights.
As the women’s vote became more coveted during the election cycle, the Republican National Committee abandoned the Senate candidacy and appalling views of Missouri’s Todd Akin. The GOP tried to cozy up by moving closer to the center.
It was too late; women were on to them and proved it where it counts, in the voting booth.
Missouri women gave Claire McCaskill 58 percent of their votes, helping her to trounce Akin by nearly 16 points. President Barack Obama got 55 percent of the women’s vote nationwide and 54 percent in Missouri. The gender gap is a significant problem for Republicans; women vote in greater numbers every year and have shown an increasing tendency to vote blue.
In Indiana, women helped sink Republican Senate candidate Richard E. Mourdock, who saw his candidacy start to dive after he said that a pregnancy resulting from rape was “something that God intended.”
Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly beat Mourdock by 12 points even as the Hoosier state was giving Romney a more than 10-point margin over Obama.
The Senate long has been predominantly a men’s club. But in January it will have its first openly gay member, and a woman at that. Tammy Baldwin is also Wisconsin’s first female senator.
The election also produced the Senate’s first Asian-American woman, Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii. Hirono also is America’s first Japanese-born senator and perhaps the first Buddhist in the world’s greatest deliberative body. Donald Trump will be apoplectic.
The other new women to the chamber are Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Republican Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
New Hampshire made history by becoming the first state to have an all-female delegation when it elected two women to the House to join its two female senators. As if that wasn’t enough, the state also elected Democrat Maggie Hassan as governor.
Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, told The New York Times that women making up a fifth of the Senate is “an important symbolic number.”
She said female politicians will now be less likely to be concerned about a male culture in Congress or worry about media bias against women. Lawless predicted that the results will prompt more women to seek office and to view themselves as qualified for the positions.
In 1992, when three women were elected to join the two women who already were in the Senate, observers dubbed it the “Year of the Woman.” Mikulski didn’t like the label and said: “Calling 1992 the Year of the Woman makes it sound like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year.”
Two decades later, voters may be proving her right.