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Congress Ripens



To ripen: To mature as in fruit growing ruddy and full

I have to admit that I modified that definition a little. The imagery of “ripe” came to mind as a result of the ruddy full moon created by the eclipse on January 20-21.

And I guess I should apologize to all readers who couldn’t get access to my post on the eclipse. This was due to a typo in the link, and even when I tried to correct it, cyber mayhem resulted in some cases. I think I was punished for going a bit negative about technology. There are vengeful micros watching.

But on to the moment–I mean actually to the past. I refer to a section of the January 17 New York Times that was devoted to “The Women of the 116th Congress.”  After the first look, I was haunted by what I had seen in the formal portraits of the 131 female members of Congress. I kept revisiting the images, trying to figure out why I was so affected.

After a while, I realized that what was initially so striking was the unexpected impression that I was looking at real people. Now how am I going to explain this?


I guess my surprise comes down to the convention that the foremost obligation of the feminine is to be attractive, to “look good.” And the models who come to mind are the movie and media stars who often “make it” in part due to extraordinary looks. Over time, the cosmetic industry has defined the nature of beauty to create standards that make adherents look more and more alike.

So my reaction was about how the faces in this section cumulatively deviate from that standard. Each individual looks so different from the others. I was struck by the absence of any evidence of some form of expected homogeneity.

I know you’re going to say, “Well, the men in Congress don’t look alike.” No, they don’t, but they do wear a type of uniform–the business suit with white shirt and a necktie of some design. Among the women, there is no such consistency. There are such different styles of dress and accessories and so much color with makeup ranging from elaborate to none, and ages–my goodness–from 29 to 85.

The nubile among them (two women have borne children while serving) have lovely smooth skin, but the etched planes of their elders more clearly reveal the development of character through experience and aging. One can’t help but wonder: How has this unprecedented number of women with inconsistent characteristics managed to make their way into the halls of power? Who are they?


As I studied the brief paragraph associated with each portrait, the thing that stood out most clearly was the trail of “firsts.” Again and again appears that phrase, “the first woman to . . .”; and then come all the racial firsts now seated–black, Latina, Puerto Rican, Native American, etc., and also immigrants like Chinese-American, Palestinian-American, Samoan-American, Vietnamese-American, Somali-American, and so on.

There are many professional firsts as well, and one category seems especially important. I could be wrong, but I’ve always had this sense that men are a little uneasy with women in leadership positions, as in fearing that when aggression is needed they will find themselves taking orders from a “pussy,” pardon the term. Not so in this assembly. Here are some other firsts that manifest an abundance of physical courage: a retired Air Force colonel who was the first woman to fly a combat mission and command a fighter squadron, a former Navy commander, two other combat veterans, and the first woman to serve as chief of police in her huge city. In another example of fortitude, one woman had been shot five times and left for dead when the congressman she served as aide was assassinated. When she survived, she decided to run for office.

A wide range of other professions has been explored, the field of law probably being the most common. However, there are also former government administrators and members of state legislatures, business owners, educators, social workers, a registered nurse, a code writer, and even the owner of a bison farm. Several speak passionately also about their ongoing roles as mothers.

Their brief biographies reveal clear goals for the future, the primary commitment being simply to change. They are very aware of the need to remedy congressional dysfunction. As one new member put it, “we are fed up.” Some speak of the need to provide healthcare and opportunity for all and to bring attention to those communities that are overlooked and disenfranchised. First and foremost among the new members is the determination to “open new pathways,” as one put it, to seats of power for other women. They are also sexually inclusive, a number of them openly gay and one who is openly bisexual. The bottom line seems to be that they are pioneers–open, adventurous, and determined.


But what special social skills and aptitudes do women bring to the table? Time and again, the topic of the feminine gift for communication comes up. Our love of talking is well-known among men, who have ways of seeking refuge. However, this comes with the ability to build relationships through listening and finding common ground. As one of the women said, “we seek consensus, and we don’t think compromise is a bad thing.” The ultimate hope seems to be that they represent an opportunity to find innovative solutions to the nation’s problems.


You will have noticed that I have not highlighted any particular individual so far. This is because I wanted to avoid putting certain ones in the spotlight. This blog was meant simply to be about the significance of the growing presence of the feminine in Congress. However, I will deviate from that intention here at the end. This is due in part to where I live.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland

The New York Times has 27 different print sites, and a different portrait appeared on the cover of the “women in Congress” section produced at each site. Ours was of Congresswoman Deb Haaland. An attorney specializing in Indian law in New Mexico, she is a member of the Laguna Pueblo. She was elected in 2018, one of the first two Native Americans to serve.

There are many photographs of Congresswoman Haaland relaxed and smiling, but her formal portrait is especially evocative. Her heritage is obvious, and in her grave expression, one can readily imagine her deep knowledge of all the wrongs suffered by the indigenous people of America. As the feminine revolution continues to develop, there will probably be efforts by certain men in Congress to keep us “in our place.” In Haaland’s eyes I imagine a message: “Try to hold us back, and I will have your scalp.” And I smile.



3 Responses to “Congress Ripens”

  1. Judi Hendricks

    Thanks for a great post, Ellen…Actually, I think most of the men in Washington look absolutely interchangeable–white, fleshy, mostly gray haired and clean shaven. They remind me of the lemmings in that old Apple SuperBowl ad.
    I find the diversity of the freshman representatives to be about the best thing that’s happened in the last two years. The People’s House is starting to look like the people.

  2. Maggie

    Thanks so much for the explanation regarding your last link. I tried on two different platforms with the same problem & was actually in the process of emailing you. When I saw the new article I thought I would try it and it worked.

    Regarding this article and its subject, I have lost confidence in any of the Congressional people. They end up being sucked into the power and money and being led by their noses. They lose sight of the fact that they work for the taxpayers/citizens of America. Yes, there may be a few exceptions. With respect to diversity, it is no longer something I support as it has been bludgeoned over my head, it has forced people to lose their businesses/livelihoods, it has caused greater division and it does not lead to unity, to cooperation, to compromise ….again, we will agree to disagree, Ellen. We shall see what happens……