By: Olena Halkowicz
Editor | Politics and the World
Geraldine Ferraro mulls over how to respond to the resistance expressed by male voters towards her candidacy. She is strikingly composed, and her tone is tolerant as she replies, “We always have anxieties until we do it for the first time, and then we usually recognize that those anxieties are baseless.” In a single sentence, Ferraro both acknowledges the prejudice seeping from in between her words and after punctuation, dismisses it. Armed with the nonchalance of a seasoned diplomat, she has grown accustomed to sexist retorts under the guise of concern.
Ferraro became the first woman on a major White House ticket when Democratic presidential candidate, Walter Mondale, picked her as his running mate. Since 1984, three additional women have found their names on major tickets, with Kamala Harris being the most recent.
Mondale’s campaign announcement acted as a catalyst for change, one which prompted men and women alike to abandon a political taboo. When asked about the significance of her candidacy, Ferraro states, “If a woman can be Vice President of the United States, what job is there that a woman cannot do?” The notion that a woman could not hold a position of power was not only challenged but dismantled.
In the end, America re-elected President Reagan. However, Geraldine Ferraro is remembered less for the elections she lost and more for the consequent onslaught of female leadership. Since 1984, the percentage of women running for office increased steadily. In 1992, the increase culminated in the “Year of the Woman,” where the number of women in the U.S. Senate suddenly doubled. The number of women in Congress also increased from 28 to 47.
In 2012, women experienced a second wave of political victories. This year brought six new women of colour to Congress.
In 2014, the number of women in Congress reached the triple digits, and in 2016, nine new women of colour were elected to Congress. This was following Hillary Clinton’s loss.
However, these small and large victories cannot be limited to the realm of politics. Previously male-dominated field, including financial services, medicine and law also saw an increase in women. Since the 1990s, the number of female physicians in the workforce has been increasing steadily. Women represented 5% of the physician workforce in 1990, a value which grew to 36% in 2015. Notable female medical pioneers include Dr. Alexa Irene Canaday, who was the first female and African American neurosurgeon in 1984, Dr. Margaret Allen, who was the first female surgeon to perform a heart transplant surgery in 1985, and Dr. Antonia Novelle, who was the first female U.S. Surgeon General in 1990.
Within the corporate landscape, women’s share of board seats in S&P 1500 companies increased 7.2 percentage points, or 94 percent, from 1997 to 2009. The share of companies with female CEOs increased more than six-fold, according to American Progress.
Of course, the progress made in bridging the women’s leadership gap cannot be attributed solely to Geraldine Ferraro. However, this case is an excellent example of how representation matters. An article written by Time Magazine quotes Dr. Carol Nadelson who explains how a male’s perception of a woman will also change when she adopts a position of power. “A fifth-grade boy,” she says, “also has a view of a woman being in a kind of role. This change expands his view of women.” Faye Wattleton, then President of Planned Parenthood stated, “Any time a woman reaches a revered status, it is easier for the secretary in an office to have a better sense of her self-worth. That secretary may not want to be President of the United States, but she may want to be president of her company.”
Now, as Kamala Harris runs alongside Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, an acute hopefulness cannot help but course through every facet of society. Harris is widely seen as a promising candidate, and, according to The Economist, she is the one best able to reassemble the “Obama coalition of progressive, non-white voters and young people.” Harris is the first black woman and the first Asian-American chosen for a major-party national ticket.
The women who have come before Harris, including Geraldine Ferraro, Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton have made enormous progress despite their losses. It is only expected that Harris will continue that trend.
A win for Harris would be a crossing into uncharted territory. There has yet to be a female Vice President. It goes without a doubt, however, that her success would inspire countless women to become executives, leaders, and perhaps even the President of the United States.