Representation in the political sphere matters, especially when that representation occurs in major, public-facing roles. Women have been historically marginalized in politics, especially in positions of power where further opportunities for women can be created. Only nine of the current 50 U.S. governors are women, with underrepresentation contributing to a system in which women are consistently passed over as legitimate political candidates in high ranking positions. Times are evidently changing, however, if Kathy Hochul’s ascent to governor of New York is any indication. Hochul’s arrival marks the most recent iteration of the growing trend of female representation in highly influential political areas.
Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo abandoned his post amid a twofold scandal: a slew of sexual assault accusations began unfolding at the same time as a revelation that the state of New York’d death toll during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic was grossly underestimated. In short, New York was in desperate need of new leadership, and the newly-installed Governor Kathy Hochul offers precisely that. Hochul provides a breath of fresh air for New Yorkers, and provides a unique perspective and set of goals as the first female governor of the dual national and global epicenter of both cultural and financial influence. While it’s far too early in her term to speak of clear legislative priorities, Hochul possesses a strong track record in campaigning for women’s rights and opportunities within her district and New York as a whole.
Hochul’s tenure also occasioned a social and psychological change for both the people of New York and offices around the country. It is almost too fitting that the state’s first female governor is displacing a powerful scion accused of heinous abuses of power against female staffers, aides and interns, and is on record many times making disparaging or uncomfortable comments about women in general. All too many times has a woman taking power been treated as a band-aid for the gash that is misogyny within the U.S. political system. It should not take actions such as Cuomo’s for us as a nation to critically analyze our political system and make room for the voices of minority groups such as women.
There is hope for the future, however, as along with state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Attorney General Letitia James and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Hochul is another part of the wave of female leadership taking control in New York. Women coming into positions of political power is not a New York specific trend, however. Across the nation, rates of women both running for office and their election rates have steadily increased over the past decade, signaling a shift in public opinion of who can be defined as leaders. In 2020, women accounted for 44 percent of Democratic candidates and 23 percent of Republican candidates, an 11 percent and five percent increase over the previous cycle, respectively, boding well for the future of the country. Providing young women with highly visible figures that look like them is essential to inspiring a generation of young female leaders, and female leadership in the United States has proven to be highly beneficial in many ways for all U.S. citizens, but particularly minority groups.
Hochul’s appointment to the role of the governor of New York is a foundational step in laying the groundwork for a future in which the political arena is not dominated by any one demographic, a place truly representative of all U.S. citizens. Having a government that reflects the identities, values and perspectives of all people is essential to making progress as a society, and the only way for the U.S. to recover from the civil, political and economic unrest of the COVID-19 pandemic. As our leaders become more and more representative of us as a nation, we can approach closer that unity which has so long been a stranger in this country.