Credit: Courtesy of Library of Congress/

When 160 female congressional and gubernatorial candidates won their primaries last year, some pundits wondered if 2010 would become the next "Year of the Woman." But November came and went, and it didn't turn out that way.

And so 1992 remains the last "Year of the Woman" on the books. That year, 60 million women went to the polls to help elect 24 new female representatives to the House and five female U.S. senators - the single largest increase of women's representation in history.

Two years later, 16 million fewer female voters chose to participate on Election Day.

Next Tuesday, March 8, is International Women's Day, and it's an appropriate time to examine what went wrong, or probably more accurately put: What didn't go right?

Many analysts cited the 1994 drop-off in female voters as a big reason the Republicans gained control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, ushering in what was caustically referred to as the "Year of the Angry White Male." Indeed, female gains in the halls of government, as well as the boardrooms of corporate America, haven't lived up to the bright promise of 1992.

Political and economic equality for women has always been a slow and painful struggle. The passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, occurred less than 100 years ago. The Federal Equal Pay Act of 1963 is just over 47 years old. Inequalities still abound. Even though women actually outnumber men in the United States, they are still widely considered a minority (or more accurately a "subordinate" group) by feminist organizations and women's rights groups.

Part of the explanation for the sluggish momentum post-1992 was what also happened that year. Bill Clinton was elected president as a pro-women's-rights candidate, with much support from women's groups. Subsequently, when rumors and reports of Clinton's affairs surfaced and the White House tried to respond to those and to attacks from the moral hit squads, it reached out for help from national women's groups. Many groups decided it was better to "stand by their man" rather than "support a sister" - and suffered a loss of credibility from being in the middle of the crossfire.

But the primary problem lies in the simple truth that historically, as a group, women don't support women. They have always allowed themselves to be split on political lines. If this weren't the case, women would hold a huge majority in every governing body in the United States.

Progress has been made, but it's been slow. The current, 112th Congress has 72 women in the House of 435 seats - one fewer than the 111th - and 17 female senators out of 100, the same as in 2009.

The numbers here on Long Island aren't any better. Women make up 53.4 percent of the registered voters, outnumbering men by more than 60,000 registrants.

Despite that, there has never been a female county executive in Nassau or Suffolk. And for whatever reasons, women are less likely than men to seek elective office. As a result of these factors, in the last elections for the Suffolk County Legislature, women were elected in just three of the 18 seats. They do a little better in Nassau, where they hold six of the 19 legislative seats. In the 10 towns in Suffolk, only one, Southampton, has a woman in the top spot. The same holds true for Nassau, but at least Hempstead's Kate Murray runs the largest town in the state.

Yet there is some good news as we approach International Women's Day. Recent headway has at least been bipartisan. Of the 13 freshman women in Congress this year, nine are Republican and four are Democrats.

In the end, being a force on both sides of the political aisle is the right road to electoral equality.