North Carolina’s Alma Adams’ victory in a special election has made her the one hundredth female congressperson of the 113th Congress, slightly less than 100 years after Jeannette Rankin was elected in Montana as the first female congressperson in 1916. When the 114th Congress is sworn in this January, the count will be up to 101 (potentially up to 105 pending December run-offs) congresswomen. One hundred is an exciting and flashy number, however there are 535 Congresspeople (100 in the Senate and 435 in the House of Representatives). The math is simple, 100 is less than 1/5th of all voting members. It is a huge problem that women make up just over half (50%) of the population of the United States, and under 20% of Congress.
Women are clearly underrepresented in Congress. Three states (Vermont, Delaware, and Mississippi) have never elected a woman to Congress, and 19 states have never had a female Senator. West Virginia and Iowa elected their first ever female Senators (Shelley Moore Capito and Joni Ernst respectively) last week. However the lack of representation and diversity goes beyond the shortage of women. Fewer than 100 members of Congress are people of color, and out of that only 33 are women of color. The majority of non-white congresspeople are Black and Hispanic. Again, remember that 100 may sound like a big number but in reality it means that 80% of Congress is White, making laws for a country that approximately 60% White. There are seven individuals in Congress who identify as being in the LGB (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual) community, and zero transgender congresspeople. Congress’ demographic should reflect the country that it exists to govern, and while it may be better than in the past, the 114th Congress is still overwhelmingly white and male. According to one study, at this rate, women will not make up half of Congress until 2121, over 100 years from now.
All of this considered, it’s vital to acknowledge that Congresspeople of specific identities don’t necessarily represent the views of their demographic. Out of 101 congresswomen, 21 of them are anti-choice. While there will be more women than ever before in the 114th Congress, it is not promising for American women who value autonomy over their own bodies. A Congress that has a majority of members who vote against pro-woman bills is not good for women, no matter that it represents a very small step towards diversifying our government.