What Hasn’t Changed

Most of the legislation passed by female chairs this year has been gender blind: Stabenow’s farm bill, Boxer’s transportation and water-resources bill, Murray’s budget and Mikulski’s appropriations bills. All four of those chairwomen say their success comes from a willingness to deal and a disinclination to grandstand. Stabenow divvied up the farm bill like “a big sister handing out chores,” says Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. And she was tough: Leahy said he was glad when the bill passed, if only to stop Stabenow “from calling me in the middle of the night.” Mikulski is effective, says Reid, because “everyone’s afraid of her.”

Some elements of Senate life, meanwhile, remain unchanged. Women still have a long way to go to match the clout of their male colleagues. Twenty-five states have yet to elect a woman to the Senate. Many committees have yet to see female chairs. A recent Institute for Women’s Policy Research study showed that at the current rate, it would take more than a century for women to reach parity in Congress.