Read: What the midterms say about America’s divide
But celebrating these results as the singular Year of the Woman can also obscure how far women still have to go to achieve full representation across all levels of government. As then-Senator Barbara Mikulski commented when the first Year of the Woman was declared, “It [sounds] like the Year of the Caribou or the Year of the Asparagus. We’re not a fad, a fancy, or a year.” Women voters, volunteers, and candidates were crucial for defining the 2018 election. But they still have a long way to go before their success becomes unremarkable for how normal it is.
The stats for women running this year are astonishing. The Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers estimates that 529 women filed to run in U.S. House and Senate races this cycle; a little less than half of them made it all the way to November’s general election. Thousands of women—literally—across 46 states put themselves up for statehouse positions, running as incumbents, as challengers, or for open seats. At both the federal and state levels, roughly 70 percent of the women running were Democrats.
As this trend developed, hopeful whispers about a repeat of 1992’s so-called Year of the Woman began. In October, those whispers became even louder. That year, Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about sexual harassment at the confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas, which helped secure women’s electoral victories soon afterward. This year, Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh also seemed to animate female voters.
One of the major gains for women in 1992 was the election of Carol Moseley Braun, who became the first black female senator. This year, women of color set remarkable records as well. A number of new female House members now share the distinction of being a “first” with a colleague: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, of Michigan and Minnesota, respectively, are the first Muslim women elected to the U.S. Congress. Deb Haaland of New Mexico and Sharice Davids of Kansas are the first American Indians. And Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will be the first Latinas to represent Texas.
Peter Beinart: The harsh truth exposed by the midterm elections
Black, Latina, Asian, and American Indian women are all underrepresented across U.S. bodies of government, and 2018 will help shift that. Ayanna Pressley became the first black congresswoman from Massachusetts and a rare elected official of color from New England. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is Latina, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress when she pulled out an upset primary victory against Democratic stalwart Joe Crowley in New York. And Lauren Underwood, a black woman and a former senior adviser in the Obama administration, unseated a longtime Republican incumbent in the Chicago exurbs. One of the most watched questions in this election—whether Stacey Abrams will become the first female governor of Georgia and the first African American woman to serve as governor anywhere in the country—is still unresolved. With Abrams coming within just one or two percentage points of her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, she has called for all absentee ballots to be counted, which could mean weeks of uncertainty ahead.