Women now account for 47 percent of the American workforce, 52 percent of professional and management employees, and 57 percent of new bachelor’s degrees. But even after gains in the 2012 election, they remain just 20 percent of the Senate.
That, however, was enough to create a “traffic jam” in the women’s restroom reserved for senators, which had just two stalls, recalled Senator Amy Klobuchar. She joined with Maryland’s Senator Barbara Mikulski to press for renovations. “The architect of the capitol presented a certain number of stalls, and we told him that it wasn’t acceptable, because it was a glass ceiling,” she said. It forms an unconventional index of progress toward parity. Today, there are four stalls; Klobuchar clearly hopes that this, too, will soon prove inadequate.
It’s a favorite anecdote for the senior senator from Minnesota, frequently deployed as part of her disarming, often self-deprecating humor. She trotted it out again on Sunday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, during a broad-ranging conversation with the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson. And it plays to Klobuchar’s proven knack for offering personal anecdotes and levity in the service of more serious points.
Klobuchar used the great restroom crisis of 2013 to provide a particularly vivid illustration of how the Senate’s women are able to collaborate across partisan lines on issues of common concern. “We’re in a minority group and so we tend to stick together,” she said. “You get power that way by sticking together across the aisle.” With her point established, she cited other, more conventional examples. “It was a big help to me when the twenty women senators requested a hearing on my sex-trafficking bill,” she said “and we went on to pass that.”