Most days I don’t feel proud of my state, or even my country. For me, something as seemingly random as where, especially within one country, my parents chose to live before I was born and when I was a young child is not something enviable or horrible; it is just where I live. But today? Today I am proud of Missouri. Last Tuesday, we made the right choice to reject Todd Akin- a blatant misogynist/rape apologist and reelect Senator Claire McCaskill.
McCaskill will serve with nineteen other women in the 113th Senate, the most to serve concurrently in United States history. Notably, New Hampshire’s two Senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte, make up part of the state’s all-woman leadership, also including Governor-Elect Maggie Hassan and Representatives-Elect Carol Shea-Porter and Ann Kuster. Tammy Baldwin, Wisconsin’s newly elected Senator, is the first openly gay woman to serve in the Senate, and Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, also a Representative-Elect, is the first Hindu to be elected to Congress. Plenty more races were groundbreaking for the diversity of the legislature (Heidi Heitkamp is North Dakota’s first woman Senator, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii is the nation’s first Asian-American woman in the Senate, and Tammy Duckworth is the first disabled veteran woman in congress), but I think that McCaskill’s race was an especially important example of what this election really taught us: when a war is waged on the bodies and rights of American women, we will vote, to paraphrase Mr. Akin, to shut that whole thing down.
In addition to his comments on “legitimate rape,” Todd Akin also opposed equal pay legislation, claiming that workplace discrimination is an issue of liberty; co-sponsored federal legislation to strictly redefine rape; supported a so-called Personhood Amendment that would ban abortion, the morning after pill, and some forms of hormonal contraceptives; and voted to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides women’s healthcare, STD testing, access to contraceptives, cancer screenings, and other medical services often to young and low-income women.
I spent this election cycle surrounded by women passionate about protecting our access to healthcare and contraception, our equal pay for equal work, and our protection against sexual abuse and violence; but, I didn’t realize until after Missouri’s Senate race was called as a victory for McCaskill by the news networks how legitimately terrified I had been at the prospect of a win for Akin. I screamed, my best friend called me crying, and my social media feeds exploded in celebration. I felt relief, and I said to my friend on the phone, only half-joking, “We still have bodily autonomy!” Thankfully, the women and men with whom I rallied, canvassed, phone banked, and protested this summer and fall, and thousands and thousands of others, succeeded in taking a stand against Akin and his harmful rhetoric and policies.
My hope is that one day, in the near future, women will not have to fear for our autonomy and safety, and will be able to vote reassured that any candidate we choose has our health and safety in mind. While we as a nation have not yet reached that point, I think this election sent an important message to the political establishment. We will not stand by while our rights are eroded, and appeal to a white male demographic who has historically made up America’s base of voters is no longer enough. As the sign I carried to many a rally this election says, “Women are watching, and WE WILL VOTE.”
What are your thoughts about the increase of women leaders in congress?