I’ve written before about New Hampshire’s state legislature: the House and Senate are both led by women and the Senate is majority female. When I’ve written about these details, I’ve also written that while it’s something to cheer, we need to keep track of how exactly it might make a difference in governance and life in New Hampshire – and whether voters ultimately decide that they’re happy with their composite choices.
Today, the Boston Globe published an editorial, “The Matriarchy Up North,” that does exactly that.
The first point examined is the passage of numerous progressive bills by the House, Senate or both to: raise the state’s gasoline tax by 15 cents over three years; allow the use of medical marijuana; repeal the state’s capital punishment statute and legalize same-sex marriage. Additionally, NH had been the only state not providing free public kindergarten. Now? It “…offers grants and other incentives to its local school districts to provide kindergarten classes, and only a tiny handful are still resisting.” Perhaps most blasphemous, when you consider the NH license plate slogan, “Live Free or Die,” the state legislature has taken up debate of a mandatory seat-belt law.
Part One of the analysis:
What could be causing this unprecedented turn in Granite State politics? Here’s one idea: women.
Since January, the New Hampshire Senate has been making history as the first majority female legislative body in the country: Thirteen of its 24 members are women. Overall, the New Hampshire Legislature is 37.7 percent female, just a fraction behind Vermont (37.8 percent) and Colorado (38 percent). But New Hampshire also has women in leadership: a woman House speaker, a woman Senate president, and a woman majority whip. The congressional delegation is 50 percent female, including one of only 17 women in the US Senate. It’s as if there was a bloodless coup of the state’s political establishment in November, and women were the avatars of change. [emphasis added]
Part Two of the analysis confronts the trivializing of this female leadership because the job pays next to nothing, a topic I explored last November and which instigated a lot of debate:
Cynics suggest that it is precisely because New Hampshire’s Legislature is part time and virtually unpaid – members earn $100 a session, plus commuting expenses – that women are allowed to compete for legislative seats that aren’t as prized as they are in, say, Massachusetts. It’s just volunteerism, like rolling bandages. Why not let the women have it?
But the meat we need to consider is next, as the op-ed answers the question, so – what difference has been made by these increases in female representation:
For one thing, women who run are more likely to be Democrats; just two of the 13 women senators are Republicans. In that sense, at least, a distaff-dominated legislature is likely to be more progressive.
Numerous studies of the gender gap have found that women tend to be more liberal – in the word’s sense of “generous” – especially when it comes to funding programs for children, the environment, and healthcare. Men are more libertarian, tending to be skeptical of government solutions and protective of individual rights.
More to the point, the tone and perspective are different with women in charge.
“I do think gender has affected the way we discuss issues,” says Exeter Democrat Margaret Hassan, the Senate’s president pro tem. “Women tend to see problems in a much less segmented fashion, and that has allowed us to connect the dots in different ways.”
This is the more interesting question about women in power. Sure, women should be heard more in government – and the law, and science, and journalism – as a matter of sheer equity. But it’s not the quantity of women so much as the different quality that can bring real change.
Women see the world as a web of relationships. They are more communitarian and less individualistic. They are less ideological and more practical. It’s hard to imagine a better set of qualities for solving the intricate problems that face our world.
Emphasis all added by me.
And the conclusion?
What’s the matter with New Hampshire? Nothing. They’ve just seen the future up there.
I will note that this editorial was written by an editorial page editor (and Senior VP at the Globe) who is a woman, Renée Loth, because she is someone who would be very familiar with just how few women editorial page editors there are, and thus appreciate that of which she speaks, or writes as the case may be, regarding leadership issues, changes and impact. Many thanks to her for following this story.
And jeers to the many obnoxious comments at the editorial online.
Of course, I can’t help thinking about how the Ohio GOP couldn’t muster more than one female state senator out of a total of 21 Republican state senators. Ugh, I hate that statistic.
Hattip to Ali Savino.