It's OK to Care About Gender in This Election

Bernie Sanders says to vote based on what you believe — among other things, I believe there should be more women in politics

"No one has ever heard me say, 'Hey guys, let's stand together, vote for a man,'" Bernie Sanders said Thursday. Credit: Scott Olson/Getty

Bernie Sanders does not want you to vote for him just because he's a man. "I don't go around, no one has ever heard me say, 'Hey guys, let's stand together, vote for a man,'" he said Thursday, in response to the controversy over comments Sanders supporter Killer Mike made earlier in the week. "I would never do that, never have."

He doesn't have to. America overwhelmingly votes white men into office like they're going out of style. Except, they're not. Today's Congress is over 80 percent male, and of the 12,171 people who have served in Congress since its inception in 1781, only 307 have been women. (Of those, just 54 have been women of color, and two LGBT.) When you break it down, that's a measly 2.5 percent. Spoiler alert: Plenty of Americans are going to vote for a man whether Bernie Sanders says to or not.

I often hear Bernie supporters argue that people should not vote for Hillary Clinton "just because she's a woman." Sanders himself said this week that "people should not be voting for candidates based on their gender, but based on what they believe. I think that makes sense."

But what about those of us who believe in better, more equal gender representation in politics? As FairVote's Cynthia Terrell told The Nation in 2014, America is electing women at such a snail's pace that "women won't achieve fair representation for nearly 500 years." This is not a matter of voting for someone just because she has a uterus, as Killer Mike insinuated — I think most people, feminist or otherwise, would agree — but because there simply aren't enough uteruses in elected office to begin with. According to the Census Bureau, the American population is 50.8 percent woman-identified, but right now women make up just 19.4 percent of Congress. Only six states currently have female governors. And you could basically fit the amount of women ever elected to the Senate — just 31 — into a single season of The Bachelor.

Hillary Clinton is one of those 31. She was the first woman elected senator of New York state. And then she left that job to become only the third-ever female secretary of state.

So sure, a uterus may not qualify you to be president, but Hillary Clinton and her uterus are at the forefront of shifting the gender balance in politics.

A 2014 Pew Research Center Study found that 38 percent of women agreed that "having more women in top leadership positions in business and government would do a lot to improve the quality of life for all women." And they're not wrong. According to The Nation, studies show that women leaders in both political parties "introduce a lot more bills than men in the areas of civil rights and liberties, education, health, labor and more." Perhaps those who support Hillary Clinton don't like her just because she's a woman, but because they believe they're working to elect a woman president who might affect their lives for the better. Maybe you disagree with that point — plenty of people have made such a case, and indeed many younger women have decided to instead back Bernie Sanders — but you can't say it's entirely baseless. This, like Bernie Sanders said, is voting for what you believe.