Why women were the real midterm winners

Republican U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst thanks her supporters after she won the U.S. Senate race on election night on November 4, 2014 in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Republican U.S. Senator-elect Joni Ernst thanks her supporters after she won the U.S. Senate race on election night on November 4, 2014 in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Yes, I'm disappointed that women gubernatorial candidates I was rooting for didn't win. And, yes, I'm disappointed that fewer women will lead committees in the U.S. Senate. And, yes, I'm worried about a Congress that appears so anti-woman, but I'm breathing deeply and considering this sweet statement one more time: In 2015, there will be at least 100 women in the U.S. Congress. Thirty years ago there were 24. Victory is sweet, even if it sometimes appears in the jaws of defeat.

Make no mistake about it, American women politicians were victorious on Election Day 2014. A Haitian-American was elected to Congress from almost-all-white Utah; an out lesbian will be the Massachusetts attorney general; a young mother will be governor of Rhode Island and a Latina her secretary of state; an Indian American immigrant, national immigration-rights leader was elected a state senator in Washington; and multiple women were elected to statewide office in Michigan and Massachusetts. Over 10% of the nation's lieutenant governors will now be women; an 18-year-old college student became the nation's youngest state legislator; and, yes, as probably everyone has heard by now, an Iowa woman who castrates pigs was elected a U.S. Senator. We should admire every one of these winning women.

"In 2015, there will be at least 100 women in the U.S. Congress. Thirty years ago there were 24."'

I also admire their sisters who lost: a Democratic woman U.S. senator in the almost-completely Republican south; a courageous reproductive rights activist who showed Texas she wasn't a lone star; a gutsy Montana school teacher with a big political future in front of her; a former gang member and convict who demonstrated amazing courage. I could go on, but you get the picture.

Women voters mattered, too. About one in five voters were unmarried women and they broke 60% to 38% for Democrats. Married women also turned out in significant numbers, on both sides of the aisle.

So, notwithstanding women candidates' losses on Tuesday, I'm not worrying about whether or not 2014 was a "year of the woman."

That's because we're now in the century of the woman. A century in which every single year will be a year of the woman, one way or another (2016, anyone?). The fact is, women of every kind, from every walk of life, are in American politics today. Voting, running, winning and leading, or voting, losing, running again and winning. No matter -- there is no turning back. This revolution has been televised.

So, I'm declaring a victory. American politics and government is no longer the preserve of old white men. And it's about time.

As we recover from a night of high drama, the next generation of political leaders should draw wisdom from the women of 2014 (losers, as well as winners): 

  • Share your personal story honestly and forcefully. Voters appreciate that. Check out Mia Love's story about her family, and the values her parents taught her.
  • Don't worry about your marital status, or sexual preference, or whether you're a mother or not. You can be married or single, gay or straight, young or old, mother or not. Check out Democrat Maura Kennedy, the new attorney general of Massachusetts, elected alongside a Republican governor.
  • Our nation's economic future is important to everyone, regardless of political party. Check out Democrat and newly-elected Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo's pension policies. Or, if you want a Republican example, check out Shelley Moore Capito's position on student loan rates. (She wants them to be affordable.)
  • While deep divisions of many kinds still plague our society and politics, head-on discussion and a willingness to take clear positions are the right way to go. On this one, check out Mary Landrieu, now in a run-off for the Louisiana U.S. Senate seat, who had the courage to say, in the days leading up to an Election Day she knew would likely result in a runoff, that the South "has not always been the friendliest or easiest place for African Americans to advance, and it's been a difficult place for women to be recognized as the leaders we are .. Everyone knows this is the truth, and I will continue to speak the truth even as some would twist my words seeking political advantage." With guts there is glory, and a teachable moment for every woman -- and man -- who seeks to lead.
  • There is hope in America today. What else can you conclude after seeing 18-year-old Saira Blair win and become our nation's youngest lawmaker?

Women politicians will keep winning, if they hold these truths close-to-heart. And, when they do, they will put the lie to those who would say wait your turn; or you're not qualified enough; or show me the money; or you're a mom, or a lesbian, or a woman with a checkered past.

In some years, women politicians win; in others, they lose. But, every year, women politicians have the right, the brains, the fortitude, and the courage to lead our nation. On to 2016.

Rebecca Sive is the author of Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman’s Guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House, a lecturer at Chicago Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago and an expert on women’s political participation and public leadership.