Women are not the only adults in Washington

It started with an article on TIME.com by Jay Newton Small, “In Shutdown, Women are the Only Adults Left.” There are 20 women in the Senate, the most ever, and during the government shutdown, their floor speeches were somewhat less partisan and more “Can’t-We-Just.” Several women rights’ groups, like EMILY’s List, picked up the story for use in fundraising.

The Can’t We Just speech is very easy to give. First, note how Americans mistrust their government. Then, assert that Americans dislike partisanship. Then, give an example of how you’ve worked with someone from across the aisle before. Finally, ask why “can’t we just” set aside partisan differences and work towards a common goal and agree to disagree and be civil, among other content-free formulations. Since it’s an easy speech to give, it’s also among the least constructive. Women don’t tend to give these speeches more than men. It’s just that women are less instinctively partisan, or less liable to initiative a conflict, or more caring, than men. Those positive stereotypes might be comforting, but they are, simply, groundless. Until women become power-brokers in Congress, and I really do want them to become power-brokers in Congress, there is no way to assess whether simply being a woman makes one a better, more effective legislator for our times without resorting to barely-post-Victorian era notions of what women have than men lack.

The idea that women were the only adults in the shutdown is attractive. But it ain’t so.