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ESSAY Can the Flower ofSouthern Womanhood Bloom in the Garden of Southern Politics? by Sue Tolleson-Rinehart h, the flower of southern womanhood: gracious, lovely, and charming. Many features of southern culture have changed greatiy over time. In one way, though, the South retains its distinctiveness : it remains the region ofthe country least hospitable to the election of women to office. The reasons for this are intricately , and inextricably, bound to those notions of southern womanhood. Even after virtual explosions of women's electoral activity in the mid-1970s and 1980s, and the ^ear of the Woman" in 1992, the South has not yet contributed her share of stateswomen to the public realm. By 1997 eight of the ten states with the lowest percentages of women in state legislatures were former Confederate or border states, with Alabama ranking fiftieth (see Table 1 ). West Virginia, a border state, was among the "highest ofthe lowest," and another border state, Maryland, broke into the national top ten. Ofthe states usually thought to comprise the "South"—most often defined as the eleven former states of the Confederacy—only Florida is in the top twenty-five. None of the remaining southern states does well, ifby "well" we mean having elected a meaningful number of women. North Carolina, for example, ranks thirty-second in the nation, widi six out of fifty North Carolina senators who are women, and only 23 women in a 1 20-member state house. Texas, despite die very visible presence of elected women like former governor Ann Richards, U.S. senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, or Houston's five-term former mayor Kathy Whitmire, nonetheless ranks thirtieth , with a state legislature that is only 18.2 percent female. States with much higher percentages of women in their state legislatures, in contrast, are all, with die noted exception of Maryland, to be found in New England, the West, or the upper Midwest. Washington's state legislature is almost 40 percent female, making it number one; and the "worst of the best," the Connecticut legislature, is still more than a quarter female. Women elected as Democrats in the South outnumber their Republican counterparts , as is true nationwide, although the partisan lineup changed somewhat in recent years. In North Carolina and South Carolina, for example, the number of 78 Republican women in office recendy crept ahead of the Democratic total—though it must be noted that diis Re- Southern WOmen publican edge still represents a very small number of of-.1, ,. rficeholders . In other southern states, Democrats still farJ outnumber Republicans.1that have long been Students of women in politics focus on state legisla-» ¡ tures because this is where the "base offices"—the foun-J dation stones of political careers—are often found. For ifj Other regions. several reasons, these offices, just like city council, county commission, or school board offices, have long been regarded as especially significant indicators of women's changing electoral fortunes. First, these offices are usually close to home (although , paradoxically, the geographically enormous western states are as likely as the more intimate New England states to have high numbers ofwomen in their governing bodies). Second, campaigns for such offices often can be waged relatively inexpensively, at least in comparison to the costs ofwaging statewide or national campaigns. These first two points are thought to matter more to political women than to political men, since women are still more likely than men to be the primary caregivers ofyoung children, and are still less likely than men to earn high incomes.2 Growing numbers of affluent professional women may be altering the financial profile ofthe pool ofwomen candidates, butwomen's responsibilities as parents have not appreciably altered in recent years. Finally, the makeup of a state legislature presents a portrait of the prevailing culture in a state: a state with few women in its legislature is almost certain to be a conservative, traditional state, and is not likely to have many women as holders ofits odier offices. One need only think ofwomen governors to demonstrate the point: of the ten women who have been elected governor in their own right, seven have come from those traditional bastions of women's electoral progress, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1488
Print ISSN
1068-8218
Pages
pp. 78-87
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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