Ferraro’s nomination signified hope—a hope that a country mired in institutionalized misogyny could one day see its way to true equality between the sexes. Now, 27 years later, her death compels me to wonder whether we’ve seen much progress.True equality may not be here yet, but if she's really wondering about progress, she needs to learn a lot more about what the American political system was like in 1984 compared to how it is now.
Why was Gerry Ferraro -- a Member of the House with relatively little experience and what turned out to be real vulnerabilities -- the person Walter Mondale selected to be the first woman on a national ticket? Mainly because there were so few alternatives. In 1984 (all facts from CAWP):
There were two women in the Senate, matching the then all-time high. Both were Republicans. Over the three election cycles leading up to 1984, the Democrats nominated a grand total of four women for the U.S. Senate. Currently, 17 women serve in the Senate (12 Democrats).
Governors? There was one woman out of 50 in 1984, a Democrat who had just taken office that year. In the previous three election cycles, the Democrats had nominated a total of three women for governor (and the GOP hadn't nominated one since 1974). Currently, there are six women servings as governors, down from a high point of nine.
In the House, Ferraro was Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus -- the only woman in a leadership role in either party, and one that Democrats had traditionally held by a woman, at least sometimes, since the 1940s; no woman from either party had ever held any other party leadership position in Congress. Nor were any women chairs of a House committee. Nada. Things, of course, are different now (especially for the Democrats).
In 1984, there had been one female Supreme Court Justice ever; there are three now. There had never been a woman at the top of any of the big four cabinet departments (State, Defense, Justice, Treasury).
I suppose I should also mention that women now serve in senior military posts, too.
Yes, it's true that women who run for office are still attacked in ways that, as Dove-Viebahn says, amount to basically thinly veiled sexist stereotypes. The golden age of perfect equality isn't here...indeed, it's not unreasonable to take a pessimistic view of where we are now, although my tendency is to be more optimistic. But to say that there's no progress, or little progress, or in any way to diminish the differences between 1984 and 2011 is to really miss a major, significant shift. Back then, Ferraro was one of at best a half-dozen of even somewhat plausible candidates for VP, and all of them were going to raise legitimate (not, that is, gender-related) questions about their qualifications. That's never going to be the case again.