Like many Americans, I’ve been thinking a lot about the loss of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and how her absence on the court will affect the progress she made toward gender equality. Without knowing who will fill the vacant seat on the court, we cannot predict the outcome of future cases. What we can do instead is evaluate the inequality that surrounds us in everyday life.
Puzzles and pyramids
It is often the smallest piece of the puzzle that goes overlooked the longest. No matter how excited we were to have had the first major-party female presidential candidate in 2016, no matter how thrilled we are that every election brings new female members of congress, no matter how many women become mayors, our ability to maintain a steady stream of suitable candidates for high offices is hampered by our lack of gender equality at the most basic level of precinct representation.
It’s the smallest piece of the puzzle. We see it in play in our everyday lives, usually without considering its crucial role in not only the upward flow of candidates but in the mindset of both voters and those who govern at every level.
Think of the American political system as a pyramid. The pyramid rests on a broad base of tiny precincts across the entire country, each with representation in our city and county (parishes in Louisiana; boroughs in Alaska) government.
Election as a city or county commissioner or council member is often a candidate’s first exposure to the political system. These are also the governmental positions most likely to have a direct and meaningful effect on us as individuals. They often hold both executive and legislative authority.
Our attitude about those who govern us begins with these representatives. Who do we trust? Who do we feel is most qualified to represent us? This is the place where unintentional gender bias can do the most harm.
Imagine a 60-year-old man who has never been governed by a woman at the local level in his entire voting life. No woman ever ensured his road remained free of potholes. No woman sets the budget for how his…