Hilary Rosen's comment last week about Ann Romney's working life was tacky and thoughtless -- at best a poorly worded non-issue, at worst a grossly offensive stereotype.
But the CNN commentator did something that so far no one has done in this unbearably painful presidential campaign season -- provide a woman's voice in the "war on women." Up to that gaffe, the discussions of women's rights, women's health and women's roles were coming almost exclusively from America's minority gender, men.
The simple fact is that, both nationally and in Utah, women participate in politics at much lower rates than men. There are many surmised reasons for this -- a history of non-involvement, a patriarchal society, lack of interest, a focus on other pursuits. The why is less significant than the result -- fewer women's voices on issues that affect women.
Let's look at the Utah facts.
• A majority of Republican voters are women; 25 percent of Republican delegates are women.
• 60 percent of Democrats are women; 43 percent of Democratic delegates are women.
• Out of 75 seats in the Utah House, women hold 12. Eight of the 17 Democrats are women; four of the 57 Republicans are women.
• In the Senate, five of the 29 are women -- four Democrats, one Republican.
• Utah has had one female governor in its history, but not an elected one. Olene Walker took over when Michael Leavitt left the Bush administration. She served just more than a year before the Republicans -- delegates, not voters -- ousted her.
• Since 1917, three women have represented Utah in the U.S. House of Representatives. There have been none in the Senate.
Nationally, women remain underrepresented as well; even liberal states like California and New York have sent only two women to the Senate in the last 100 years, and in New York, both of those have come in the last decade.
While dialogue about women has, as we've all seen, disintegrated, on the national stage women are doing better. Hillary Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro are not flukes. As much as their statements and positions offend me, I owe some small measure of gratitude to Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann for at least getting onto the big stage.
Utah has made strides as well, particularly with the election of Rep. Becky Lockhart as House Speaker. But we need to do more. The state needs more female representation, not because we're smarter, more creative or more capable than men, but because organizations need diversity and differing perspectives to find the best solutions. Laws are passed that disproportionately affect women, children and families, yet because participation is low few female voices are raised in those discussions. That needs to change, and it's not going to happen by an influx of bra-burning women's libbers. It's going to happen because the stay-at-home moms, elementary school teachers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, PR agents, bus drivers and store clerks of Utah choose to participate in how this state is governed.
The difficulty is they choose not to. UVU's Women and Education Project found that influencing significant political decisions was low on the list of aspirations for women. Many women do not see how what happens in city council meetings and at the legislature affects their lives and their families. If the health, safety and education of your family is important to you -- anyone, man or woman -- you should be involved. You do not have to put your family second to effect change.
This doesn't have to mean working full-time, running for office or deserting your family. It means determining what you believe and standing up for it. It means pushing for political involvement among book clubs, church groups, the office, the gym and the neighborhood.
Earlier this week I went to a Democratic Women of Utah County meeting. It seemed like a nice balance to my Republican caucus night. Josie Valdez, who is running for Senate in Salt Lake City, spoke about the need to get women involved -- not because we're better than men, but because we're different. Women need to be involved, she said, because the laws passed at every level of government affect the issues that matter to them -- economics, education, health.
Men and women need to sit down next to each other and discuss, as equals, the issues facing our communities and the best ways to resolve them.
"If we're not there, we get nothing," Valdez said. "We get no voice."
On an unrelated note -- the Republican state convention is on Saturday. A report from the Utah Foundation shows that the issues that are most important to voters are not most important to their delegates. You have two days to call your delegates and remind them that they were elected to represent you, and you want to be aptly represented.
• Follow Heidi Toth on Twitter at leftinutah.