Woman’s Place. . .

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1992, twenty-four women, including Margolies-Mezvinsky, won seats in the U. S. House of Representatives, doubling the number of female members. Through a series of interviews with these freshmen Congresswomen, Margolies-Mezvinsky explores their motivations for running, their legislative goals, and their impact on the 103rd Congress. She finds that although women are no longer a negligible presence, they are still on the periphery of a male bastion; many older members perceive them as “chicks in Congress.”

Margolies-Mezvinsky stresses that although the new Congresswomen are united by gender they are also divided by race and by party—the group includes five blacks, two Hispanics, and three Republicans—and not all are pro-choice. These divisions were apparent when the Women’s Caucus tried unsuccessfully to defeat the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding for abortions. She devotes an entire chapter to the bitter debate over the amendment, charging the male opposition with a calculated attempt to divide the women along racial lines.

Nevertheless, Margolies-Mezvinsky sees an essential difference between male and female politicians. Women are less likely to seek office from personal ambition; they are more often motivated by concern over issues. Once elected, they tend to regard power as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Margolies-Mezvinsky herself acted on this principle when she cast the deciding vote for President Clinton’s first budget, knowing that she was almost certainly dooming her chances for re-election. She was defeated in 1994.