In the summer of 2008, Nancy Pelosi wrote a book, "Know Your Power: A Message to America's Daughters." In it, the San Francisco congresswoman implored the country's young women to thank her for breaking the so-called "marble ceiling" in Congress and becoming the first woman speaker of the House.
"The President, always gracious, welcomed me as a new member of the leadership," she wrote about her inaugural meeting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as speaker. "As he began the discussion, I suddenly felt crowded in my chair. It was truly an astonishing experience, as if Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, and all the other suffragettes and activists who had worked hard to advance women in government and in life were right there with me. I was enthralled by their presence, and then I could clearly hear them say: 'At last we have a seat at the table.'
"After a moment," she wrote, "they were gone."
From this point of view, women activists of yore must be horribly disappointed about the recent midterm elections, and what they will mean for Pelosi's career.. As for myself, I'm delighted that we are now approaching the historic moment of having a female former speaker of the House. You win some, you lose some; We've seen that idea playing out in these midterm elections. And with the loss of the first woman speaker, we gain a presumptive speaker in Rep. John Boehner, who is willing to defend the most defenseless among us — the unborn. Bring him on.
And yet, in the wake of the election — which, frankly, had funereal aspects for all of us — it wasn't a total win for either party — there were headlines like: "Americans slam women in midterm election." That one's from an article in an online magazine for women executives. Reacting to the Democrats' relegation to minority status in the House, the article struggled with the loss of Speaker Pelosi: "how will women survive in this man's world come 2012?"
Quite fine, thank you. This last election cycle has engaged many Americans, including women, in citizen-activist roles — working for women and men in Congress who understand that Washington has been guilty of some comprehensive fiscal, moral and Constitutional malpractice of late. We've got hope for change that will put us all in a much better position — perhaps, before long, with some change to spare, for once. We want good policy from Washington, and we know that men are quite capable of it, too.
The "slam" headline and opening of that silly chick-zine article weren't too off from my prediction for a New York Times headline if incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer, an ardent legal-abortion activist, lost her tight reelection bid to pro-life businesswoman Carly Fiorina: "Republican Women Win, Women Hurt the Most."
And though Fiorina lost (in a deeply liberal state), she was part of a year in which unprecedented numbers of pro-life women stood for office and forced the media to take notice. Images of Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican convention with her family and her beautiful son Trig broke through the mainstream media bias that has kept a lens cap on when pro-life women have been on the scene.
In the end, not only did Nancy Pelosi lose her majority, but, according to the activist group Susan B. Anthony List, which exists to elect pro-life candidates, especially pro-life women, "The percentage of women in the House of Representatives who are pro-life increased by 60 percent while the percentage of women who are pro-choice decreased by 16 percent." Additionally, in the Senate, one pro-life woman was elected (in New Hampshire); previously there had been none. And there are now four pro-life women governors in the United States, outnumbering the two pro-choice woman governors who are both up for reelection in 2012.
And, in the hours immediately after her election, the New Hampshire senator-elect, former attorney general Kelly Ayotte, had the most refreshing reaction to a reporter who sought to make news of the fact that she was the only woman among the 16-strong Senate freshman class. "I hadn't actually thought about it until you just said it," Ayotte declared.
And why would she think of it? She's one among 15 others who have offered themselves for a national service and have been granted the opportunity, men and women alike.
We're so used to the gender card being played in politics and the media are so comfortable with it. Women in the Senate have contributed to the problem, frequently feeding the beast that is women's groups who live off the myth that being a woman is a liberal ideology. But it's not, and the myth has been undeniably shattered. We girls can make all kinds of responsible choices, by embracing who we are, how we are different, and what we value.
Women across the nation aren't crying over a fallen speaker. We're happy for America's daughters to know that, when it comes to success in the House, it's not the gender, but the leadership, the worldview, and the policies that matter most. May we retire the phrase "marble ceiling" and get on with the work of the people's House, this time listening to them!