Would the presence of more women in Congress make a difference?

Some academic studies say women are just as partisan as men. But others say the dearth of women on Capitol Hill might contribute to the bickering and gridlock that permeates Congress.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, said having women “does matter” because while it’s true they span the ideological spectrum, they also “bring different perspectives and life experiences” that men don’t share.

“I have no doubt the Senate functions better” because it has many women, Collins said.

U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, said he’s found that women are generally more pragmatic and thoughtful.

While academic studies are surprisingly scant on the issue, there are some that show women lawmakers from both parties are more apt to reach across the political divide and more willing to compromise.


“We’re less on testosterone,” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told ABC News four years ago. “We don’t have that need to be confrontational.” 

Emily Cain, executive director of a group devoted to electing women called Emily’s List, said that “achieving parity” between the sexes in legislatures across the country is critical.

“The perspectives that sit at the table matter,” Cain said.

Cain said the reality is that the majority of lawmakers at every level “are older white men, everywhere. And that needs to change.”

The recent stand by Collins and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska in opposition to their own party’s health care legislation in the Senate, where they effectively stifled the move to repeal the Affordable Care Act, is just the latest example — something King called a telling moment in the wake of an all-male “secret committee” that put the failed GOP health care bill together.

Collins, who’s been in the Senate for two decades, cited a time in 2013 when senators from both parties were parading in front of the cameras to denounce each other during a government shutdown caused by their failure to reach a budget compromise.


She said she couldn’t stand it any longer so she went to the Senate floor and implored her colleagues “to come together for the good of the American people.”

What’s noteworthy, Collins said, is that as soon as she finished, her cellphone began ringing — first from Murkowski, then from New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte and then from Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and even more women.

Men, too, ultimately weighed in, she added. But it was clear that her call for reasonableness had resonated most with the women in the Senate.

Collins is often hailed as the premier example of bipartisanship in the Senate, but she’s not the only one.

According to a recent report by the Center for American Women and Politics, the Eagleton Institute of Politics and Rutgers University interviewed most of the women who served in Congress last year. It found that they generally believed “that women are more likely than their male counterparts to work across party lines” because they are more consensus-seeking than their male colleagues.

The women said they saw themselves as “more results oriented, more likely to emphasize achievement over ego, and more concerned with achieving policy outcomes rather than receiving publicity or credit.”


Collins told the academics that women don’t all think alike, but do have a “more collaborative” style than their male counterparts.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat, said women tend to “keep a lot of our focus on those things where the progress isn’t going to stop.”

Researchers said that “almost all the women we interviewed want to see more women join them in the nation’s Legislature, and many claim that the gender-related obstacles to getting to Congress are greater than the challenges women face once they are elected.”

Collins said she’s sometimes asked to help recruit Republican candidates for Senate by making calls to potential candidates.

One thing she has noted, she said, is that “I have never, ever had a male candidate say he wasn’t ready. I hear that from women all the time.”

Collins said it troubles her that “there is still this self-doubt” among women who are just as qualified but lack the confidence in themselves that their male counterparts possess.

Still, she said, it’s a good thing that enough women have run — and won — to ensure that every Senate committee has at least one.

It helps, Collins said.

The women of the U.S. Senate. They all wore red one day in February 2017 to focus attention on cardiovascular disease.
U.S. Senate Photographic Studio-

* Maine leads the nation in choosing women for U.S. Senate.

* The groundbreaking influence of Maine and national political pioneer Margaret Chase Smith.


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