Female Politicians Beat Men At Bipartisan Teamwork: 4 Ways The Women On Capitol Hill Just Do It Better
When Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), now the nation's longest-serving female politician, entered the Senate in 1987, she was only the 16th woman to hold that position. Since her landmark election, female senators — there's a record-high 20 of them now — have formed a bipartisan camaraderie on Capitol Hill, prompting researchers to examine whether female politicians are better at bipartisan collaboration than their male peers. As it turns out, they are: as NPR reports, research has shown that female politicians not only sponsor more bills, but also collect more bipartisan sponsors.
A recent study out of the University of Virginia also found that women in the minority party of Congress are 33 percent more effective than men when it comes to, well, getting things done. "I would say what's different is we're interested in governing, not in winning arguments," Mikulski herself recently told NPR. "So much of the guy culture here comes from, like, a courtroom background where you gotta win the argument."
Although 2012 saw a record number of women elected to Congress, the number of women on Capitol Hill is still pitifully low. The 20 women senators represent just one-fifth of the Senate, and only four of those women are Republicans. However, that hasn't stopped the senators from jumping party lines to support each other's bills (one recent example is the bill to curb sexual assault in the military). And the cross-party friendship extends outside the Senate chamber — trust us, it's the women senators' off-duty hangouts that are truly inspirational.
They Host Women-Only Dinner Parties
Shortly after Mikulski arrived on Capitol Hill, she began hosting a monthly supper club for other women senators, whether Democratic or Republican. At the dinners, which have a "no boys allowed" rule, politics are set aside for talk of family events, upcoming vacations and favorite leisure activities. There may be talk of male senators, as former Sen. Olympia Snowe once slyly suggested to Politico, which has had some of their male counterparts worried.
"One of my colleagues on the subway said to me, 'Now, I understand you women got together last night,' and I said, 'Yes.' And he said, 'Well, what do you talk about?'" Sen. Susan Collins told NPR. "And I just smiled sweetly and said that we were planning the coup."
The best part about their dinnertime get-togethers? They're held in the Strom Thurmond Room, a slight to the late South Carolinian senator who was notorious for his sexist views and leering behavior toward women. Occasionally, the women do take their dinners off-campus to some one's house; it's been said that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) makes a killer pecan pie.
They Mentor Each Other
It doesn't stop at the dinner parties: Mikulski reportedly mentors every female senator once they step onto Capitol Hill, holding what she calls the "Senate Power Workshop." As the Dean of Senate Women, Mikulski was inspired by her own Senate mentor, former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, who was a Republican. Mikulski writes in an essay for Politico:
When I became a senator, she was so welcoming to me, offering tips and insights in my early days navigating the Senate. It’s a tradition I have tried to honor as Dean of the Senate Women, where I mentor and advise women who currently serve as senators.
Mikulski isn't the only one sharing her knowledge. After taking office, Snowe was known for taking younger senators under her wing, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Like with Mikulski, the Snowe-Klobuchar is a bipartisan relationship, as Snowe reportedly offered to be Klobuchar's "Republican mentor." Now, Klobuchar has taken over the mentor role, providing guidance to Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican.
They Attend Each Other's Improv Shows
OK, just one improv show. When Sen. Claire McCaskill put her comedy skills to the test and collaborated on the Second City satirical show "A Girl Guide's to Washington Politics," 11 of her senate colleagues came out to support the show. It was a pretty big deal.
They're Breaking Barriers
The coolest thing about these 20 women senators, though, is their diversity. Sen. Tammy Baldwin is the first openly gay senator, while Sen. Mazie Hirono is the first Asian-American woman to ever hold the position.
And as they told Diane Sawyer in a 2013 interview, they "all march to the sounds of different drummers."