Another Year of the Woman

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. On Leonard Lopate today, author Rebecca Traister talked women in politics, from Hilary Clinton's historical run in 2008 to the rash of conservative Republican women seeking office this season.

Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women, discussed the implications of this season's raft of conservative women seeking election to Congress and Governors' mansions across the country.

Grouped under the banner of Sarah Palin's twist on feminism, Traister said many in the 2010 class of Republican women candidates project an aggressive stance, but one loyal to traditional social values. Palin calls them Mama Grizzlies. They are unique, Traister said, because they wrest women's history and female empowerment away from its historic home on the left.

"In fact what we are seeing is a giant push, or at least a very visible push, by a lot of women on the right to not only gain seats in Congress and gubernatorial seats, but also to sort of claim a piece of women's political history. To say we are the party of American women and American women's political progress. And Sarah Palin is leading that charge, and doing so, I think by in part by resituating the idea of women's qualification for political office in the maternal."   

Traister said the 2008 presidential election represented a greater watershed for women, even through Hillary Clinton did not win the Democratic nomination for the presidency. Being a major candidate with a serious shot at the nomination was history-making. And her campaign changed the way women in politics are understood, paving the way for this year's candidates.

Going strictly by the numbers, 2010 Year of the Woman may end up seeing fewer women in office.

Even if there is a small influx of Republican women, it seems possibly likely that so many Democratic women are going to lose their seats that we might actually see a net loss in terms of how many women are in Congress.


The rise of conservative female candidates underscores the fact that their is no litmus test for being able to claim the feminist mantle, Traister said.

"One of the challenges that has always been in front of feminism is this question of how do you represent as many women and as many women's interest as possible."