LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Back in Washington, when the new members of Congress showed up this week to be sworn in, there were all sorts of photo ops, but one of them stands out for me - women who are members of Congress, gathered on the steps of the capitol. There are 101 women in the 113th Congress. It's a world record - or at least a record for the U.S. Congress. There are 20 women who will be in the newly convened Senate and 81 who will serve in the House. Posing for their picture on the Capitol steps - they make quite a crowd - delighted, excited, capable-looking women. There's a slightly bigger crowd in a version of the picture circulated by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi; four women who came late to the photo op were Photoshopped into the top row. And they are a colorful group.
Now, please excuse the fashion commentary but it's a big change from the early days when women in Congress tended to dress as conservatively as men do - black, brown and navy blue trouser suits, maybe go wild with gray. Blending in, one of the guys. That's gone. Now, there's lots of speculation about what difference, if any, a sizeable group of women might make to our national legislature. Here's one: when I first covered the House, the members' washroom was at one end of the chamber. It had a swinging door, like a western saloon. But, in fact, you could see right in. That wasn't a problem, apparently, because there were not many women around. Now, the leaders have nipped one end off the parliamentarian's office and made a ladies room at the other end of the chamber. Can 101 women change a deadlocked and dysfunctional legislature? Perhaps they will be able to reach across party lines more easily than some of their male colleagues do. Perhaps because, as voters told the Pew Research Center in 2008, women are twice as outgoing as men. People polled see women as substantially more honest and more intelligent. And perhaps a clue as to why more women were elected this year, women are much more compassionate. That might suggest that in tough times voters like the idea of women looking after their interests. We'll see what happens.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
WERTHEIMER: You're listening to NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.