What better way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage than by discussing the way it turned out to be a big flop?
The great champions of the 19th Amendment thought that when America’s women got the right to vote, they’d immediately start to change the nation. Promote women’s issues, like better health care and education. Refocus politics from special interests to the general good.
Then in 1920, for the first time, they went to polls across the nation with their husbands, brothers, fathers and sons and elected — President Warren Harding.
As Collins notes, the first national issue on which voting women really formed a potent political bloc was prohibition, much more popular with women than men.
A "gender gap" did not really appear in national elections until 1980, when women barely supported Reagan but men preferred him 60% to 36%. Since then the gender gap in presidential elections has regularly been around 10%, for example 10% in 2000 and 11% in 2016. (It was smaller in 2004, when foreign war and fear of terrorism generated a "safety first" vote for Bush.)
But most women still sit comfortably within the political mainstream. The notion, once common, that bringing women into any world (politics, medicine, science) would have a transformative effect by itself has turned out to be completely wrong. In medicine it turns out that the setup of the whole medical system so strongly controls what doctors actually do that differences between men and women are minimal, and hopes that female doctors would be better listeners or more caring have not been realized. In politics it has turned out just as one would expect from observing women and men in any other context: we are different, but not so very much different.