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By Tom Cushing

Ladies of the House, and the Senate

Uploaded: Oct 21, 2013

One of the media narratives making rounds after the most Recent Unpleasantmess ascribed a special role in its resolution to the Senators and Reps who are women. There's both more and less to that 'new' phenomenon than meets the casual eye.

The War of the Sexes has always been a popular theme. The classical Greek playwright Aristophanes, in his wonderful "Lysistrada," had the women of Athens and Sparta allying to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding themselves from their menfolk on both sides. Hilarity ensued – and it worked, at least on-stage. Many other examples could be cited, from the Taming of the Shrew to Adam's Rib.

In my own experience, I entered law school when the graduating class was 5% women, and left with the entering class pushing 40%. The earlier women complained that if they missed class, their absences were conspicuous in a sea of male faces; their later counterparts sometimes missed class because the building's plumbing was designed for a 95/5 gender split. The workplace later evolved, as well, during that era, as women became colleagues as well as staff within the corporate hierarchy.

To be sure, there were contrasts and growing pains. The first woman to head Procurement in my company deep-sixed the onerous novella of a Purchase Order form that had accreted over generations of male tinkering to handle minute contingencies, and close illusory loopholes. She replaced it with a one-pager that reflected what the company would actually do; it was a big improvement.

I also recall the patrician chief lobbyist who organized an 'educational meeting' with female state legislators to explain (read: condescend) to them about a bill that The Company favored, and get them into line. He was immediately put to rout, and we all ended-up talking about why (in the world) DuPont wasn't providing corporate daycare.

There has been an accompanying mystique, as if that second X chromosome contains some manner of sorcery. In the shutdown debacle, the 20 female Senators (not all of either Party: 16D-4R) have been credited with leading the way to a bill that could end the testosterone-and-ego-addled stand-off. John McCain lauded the group's apparent collaboration, opining "think what they could do if there were 50 of them!" While that was intended to be admiring, his statement also betrayed the sexist notion that they are fungible, uniform, and a breed apart: The Women. And that's nonsense.

To be sure, if you control for gender and measure any number of characteristics, you will come up with different bell-curve distributions. But those are population statistics, and each individual occupies a single point on the curve. Men's negotiating style, for example, is more often "competitive" and women's "cooperative," according to the research. But that doesn't mean that the single toughest negotiator in the world isn't a woman (indeed, she is – I was once married to her. And don't worry, she'll take it as a compliment).

And each of those Congressional women is a different point on every bell curve you can construct; the range is dramatic – from Boxer to Bachmann. To treat them as uniform or fungible is a ridiculous mistake, as their XY colleagues will learn at their peril.

So, if The Women aren't all the same, what Can be said about them as a group?

I think that The Women are a healthy influence on the Congress, just like they are in any organization. The diversity they add is a good thing for the country, not as a matter of charitable inclusion, but as a matter of strength. There are issues that sail right past any homogenous group. Those can be dealt-with better when more perspectives are included. Let's not forget, for example, that the US Supreme Court, when it was Nine Old Men, was able to convince itself that pregnancy discrimination was not covered by the gender-bias laws. That curious conclusion would be laughable today, at least to most of them. Where you come-out on an issue has a lot to do with where you came in, and in organizational diversity there is strength.

As a group The Women do share perspectives and common issues – they just don't move in lock-step on all issues. They are best considered a caucus (collaborative or raucous by turns, no doubt), that comes together around some issues of substantive common interest. There's an Ag caucus, and a Black caucus, and various others. They are good things, too, and not mystical. We will have matured as a nation when that Last Olde Boys' Club, the Senate, finally brings itself to treat them not as a curiosity – The Lady Senators -- but as Senators.