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Kunin: Milestone for Women

The first time I visited the Vermont State House way back in 1962, I had a three month old baby who was sleeping in the car bed - this was before super safe car seats - she was tucked in with my friend Betsy’s baby, who was about the same size. We were off on an adventure. We were going to testify in Montpelier on a bill, dealing, as I recall, with fair housing. Governor Phil Hoff’s right hand man, Ben Collins, who happened to be Betsy’s husband, had asked us to appear. They needed bodies.

We had parked the car on a side street in Montpelier and breast fed our babies in the back seat - this was before anyone nursed in public. We took turns going into some committee room to testify and sitting in the car.

I don’t remember the details. I do remember looking down from the House Chamber balcony and surveying a sea of old men. There must have been some women sitting there, but they seemed invisible. Today we would call it a man cave. Then, it was called a male bastion. Never, ever, could I picture myself there.

Fast forward to 1973. I sat in seat number 52. Judy Rosenstreich, a Republican, and I, a Democrat were the only two younger women. We received a lot of attention because we were - let’s say, unusual.

Fast forward to November 2013. Marjorie Ryerson of Randolph is appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin to fill a vacant seat.

Bells start ringing, fireworks light the sky. For the first time in Vermont history House Democrats, have a majority of women. The score is 49 to 47. Vermont is the third state to reach that milestone. The state of Washington and yes, New Hampshire beat us to it.

What does it mean? The House won’t turn upside down, but it may shift ever so slightly in the direction of supporting early education, paid sick days, and perhaps paid family and medical leave. Women, studies have shown, tend to support these issues because they’re close to home. Female legislators lead the charge on the equal pay law passed last spring. Women also appear to have lower levels of testosterone, which may make them more prone to bipartisanship and compromise. As good a reason as any, I’d say, to elect more women.

The one person female majority in the Vermont is already beginning to feel normal. So what’s the big deal? That’s the way a democracy is supposed to be, isn’t it? A government that represents all the people, men and women.

Take heed, Congress, we’re on the move.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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