By: Megan Graves, Columnist
I’ve talked before about how feminism must be intersectional in order for it to actually be feminism. This means that feminists have to acknowledge the ways in which race, class and gender all intertwine to create different, valid experiences. As we approach the end of February — Black History Month — I felt it was important to acknowledge one of the biggest ways in which the intersection between race and gender is still operating today.
I want to talk about the demographics within our government. At time of publication, the U.S. House of Representatives holds 238 Republicans and 193 Democrats, according to the House Press Gallery, which noted that three Republicans and one Democrat have resigned within the past two months in order to accept other positions. There are currently four vacant seats in the House, per the same source.
The U.S. Senate holds 52 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents, according to the Senate’s website.
According to Rutgers Center for American Women in Politics, there are 104 women in Congress as of January 2017. 83 out of 435 members of the House are women — though four seats are currently vacant — and 21 out of the 100 members of the Senate are women. This means that fewer than a quarter of our representatives are women. So that’s not great.
But it gets worse. According to a profile done by the Congressional Research Service in December, 2016, only 48 African Americans are members of Congress, 46 in the House and 2 in the Senate. Hispanic/Latino Americans fill just 38 seats within Congress, Asian/Pacific Islander Americans fill 14, and American Indians fill 2.
Let’s break this down even farther. Out of the total 104 women in Congress, 21 are African American, 11 are Hispanic, and 10 are Asian/Pacific Americans, according to the House of Representatives’ website.
That means that more than half of the women in Congress are white women. And, if I do a little math here, we can see that there are 28 African American men in Congress, 29 Hispanic men, 4 Asian/ Pacific, and 2 Indian American. That means there are 330 white men in our current Congress, overwhelmingly making them the dominant group.
Why do all of these numbers matter?
They matter because our government should reflect and represent the people whom it is governing. Ours doesn’t. Not to bombard you with numbers, but according to the 2015 Census, 50.8 percent of our country is female, yet, as I said earlier, not even 25 percent of the legislative branch is made up of women.
Not only are women being underrepresented within our government, women of color are being fully undermined. There are only 39 women of color in Congress as of Jan. 3.
This is alarming because different laws and issues are going to affect people differently based on their lived experiences. If the majority of lived experiences within Congress are that of white men, we’re going to see that reflected in our laws and values.
This is exactly what we’re talking about when we say that racism and sexism are systematic. They stem from the system by which our country is governed. There is no valid reason why Congress should be made up of more white men than white women and people of color combined.
It’s also horrifying that just in 2017, there have been two instances in which women in have been literally silenced by men in Congress. Elizabeth Warren was silenced when she attempted to read a letter in which Coretta Scott King opposed Jeff Sessions’ nomination to be attorney general. The rule making that possible was created more than a century ago when two senators got into a fist fight on the senate floor. It’s asinine, irrelevant, and an excuse to stop a woman from voicing her opinions.
It’s undoubtedly alarming that the letter, written by an influential and important woman of color, was dubbed as disruptive as a literal fist fight, and it’s also alarming that a woman opposing a man in the government was silenced by other men.
This happened again, just last week, when Texas State Sen. Charles Schwertner silenced a University of Texas student for opposing an anti-abortion law that, as she argued and I agree, would make the process of abortion dangerous to women. He literally shattered a glass table with his gavel as he instructed her to stop speaking at half the length those preceding her had spoken.
Not only are women being underrepresented, they are being silenced by the men who are supposed to be governing our society. Even in regards to laws that will directly affect women.
But this is where intersectionality comes in: it is one thing to have one’s gender underrepresented. It is one thing to have one’s race underrepresented. To have both one’s race and one’s gender underrepresented within the government is a stark silencing of one’s lived experience.
As a white woman, I can say that my government has failed to represent me fully and properly. But as a white woman, I must also acknowledge that my government has failed to represent women of color to an even greater degree. It is possible to feel oppression and privilege at the same time.
Pay attention to who is representing you, and treat the votes for Congress members with as much weight as the vote for president. 468 seats will be up for re-election on Nov. 6, 2018. I know that’s a ways away, but give yourself ample time to do research and plan out your votes, because 468 is a lot.
468 is enough to make a change, so let’s make a change.