From the Vault: The Question of the Invisible Majority

by Mikala Carpenter on August 5, 2013

Our “From the Vault” posts allow you to take a peek into the history of the Press, where you can rediscover past authors, projects, editors, awards, and more that led to the development of the university publisher that the Press is today. This window into our past spotlights backlist or out-of-print titles and series and also recommends and contextualizes them with similar current and forthcoming titles. Explore the drawers of the Vault with our intern, Mikala Carpenter, as we uncover the hidden treasures that await us in the archives of the University of Michigan Press.

On July 1, 2013, Senator Wendy Davis endeavored and succeeded, despite being barred from sitting down, leaning, or taking a bathroom break, in putting on a 13-hour filibuster in the Texas Senate. What was Davis, a single mother and Texas state senator, aiming to do by standing and talking uninterrupted for 13 hours straight? Her goal, Davis said, was to speak up for those women whom the state Senate would be ignoring if they passed a statewide abortion bill. When the filibuster devolved into chaos, as Republican senators attempted to silence Davis, Senator Leticia Van de Putte stood and asked the question, “At what point must a female senator raise her hand or her voice to be recognized over the male colleagues in the room?”

This was, of course, not the first time this question has been asked. In October 1980, the Press published Women and Politics: The Invisible Majority, written by Marjorie Lansing and Sandra Baxter and originally published as three volumes. These volumes were some of the first projects included in the Press’s Women and Cultural Studies series, which originated in 1980 as well and elaborated on women, gender roles, and their place in society, politics, literature, history, and other aspects of human culture. Writing Women and Politics almost 50 years after women earned the right to vote, Lansing and Baxter were interested in profiling the status of and changing culture atmosphere that surrounded women’s voting in the 1980s. In a summary written on the prospective Press project, Lansing elaborated on the term the “invisible majority”: “Women account for more than 50 percent of the American electorate and hold less than 5 percent of the seats in Congress.”

Complete with statistics, analyses, and political essays, Women and Politics aimed to explore the changes occurring in political attitudes and behaviors of American women voters while also predicting the future strength women would hold in national politics. Lansing and Baxter’s book aims to fill the gaps in women’s political history and to portray the evolution of the female political identity, with special concentration on how contemporary mass media is able to “force new definitions of gender roles, including that of citizen, having greater equality between women and men.” Women and Politics combined the change in the American political atmosphere and social climate that resulted in such cultural transformations as women’s increased participation in the labor force and greater access to education and training as well as those affecting marital and family structure. Lansing and Baxter warn throughout their book that the strength of the invisible majority, yet to be fully realized in 1980, would soon be able to influence national politics.

While the 2012 election was buoyed by a markedly female majority and ushered more women into positions in Congress than ever before, other statistics still weaken this promise of American women’s voting strength — such as the fact that women earn more than men in only 7 out of 534 professions, which accounts for only 1.5 million working women or approximately three percent of the full-time female labor force. Lansing and Baxter’s Women and Politics provides an optimistic view of women’s future roles in politics, and, though many of the authors’ hopes and expectations have been reached, society still forces some to ask questions concerning the United States’ invisible majority.

The original volumes in the Women and Cultural Studies series included Fran Leeper Buss’s La Partera: Story of a Midwife; Valeria Kossew Pichanick’s Harriet Martineau, The Women and Her Work; Susan C. Bourque and Kay Barbara Warren’s Women of the Andes; Marion S. Goldman’s Gold Diggers and Silver Miners; Page DuBois’s Centaurs and Amazons; Mary Kinnear’s Daughters of Time; Lynda K. Bundtzen’s Plath’s Incarnations; Sally Price’s Co-Wives and Calabashes; Violet B. Haas and Carolyn Cummings Perrucci’s Women in Scientific and Engineering Professions; and Patricia Ruth Hill’s The World Their Household. More recent additions to the Women and Cultural Studies series that are also available via the Press’s online catalog include Ayala Emmett’s Our Sisters’ Promised Land; Jill Ker Conway and Susan C. Bourque’s The Politics of Women’s Education; Domna C. Stanton and Abigail J. Stewart’s Feminisms in the Academy. Another new title that treats similar topics on gender roles in society and politics is Kristin A. Goss’s The Paradox of Gender Inequality, published in 2012.

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