Women are becoming more of a mainstream choice for voters. While the Senate will seat 20 women this next term, the most in US history, that is not the entire story by itself. The women being sent are representing a very diverse and socially expressive voting public as well.
New Hampshire is sending an all-female delegation to the Hill next year. Wisconsin is sending a publicly lesbian woman to the Senate (and replacing her with a gay man at the state level). Missouri re-elected a woman under suspicion of tax evasion and mis-use of public funds, choosing her understandable fiscal irresposibility over a man seen lacking in biology education. (I'm still aghast about his "legitimate rape" concept.) Illinois likewise rejected an anti-abortion incumbent to elect a female parapalegic combat veteran. Hawaii also elected a combat veteran to the House, making history by electing both a female under 40 and the first Hindu. And the list goes on.
Of the races run this November, there were 18 female contenders for Senate, and 163 for the House, fielded by the two major parties. (There were plenty other women on the ballots as third-party candidates, including a presidential candidate from the Green party.) Of the voters who put these candidates into office, there was an 11 percent gap (some reports say 18%) between those women who voted for the winner (Obama) and the loser (Romney).
I admit I'm not digging into the gender breakdown for each election here, but I'm willing to go out on a limb and suggest that that same interested, invested female population also influenced the tone and content of many races across the country. Look at my commentary above. Abortion. Combat. Homosexuality. Religion. These are all the social topics that the "It's the economy, stupid" rhetoric that was banging on the drums night and day tried to drown out.
Men obviously voted for these candidates too, which implies that there was something appealing about these candidates beyond gender, and something important enough in their platforms to earn these votes. Many of these women ran on balanced platforms that included everything from taxes to social services to education, just as their opponents did. Many of these women had important points to make about why they knew the constituency well, and what life lessons they had to bring to Congress. And they were rewarded with the chore of doing just that.
So welcome to the next wave, America. Thank you to the retired and retiring women of the United States Congress for setting the stage and paving the way, and good luck to the women who come after you.
ETA on 11/8/2012: Yes, it looks like some people are paying attention.
"US election: Women are the new majority"