Women in Politics: No Way to Win

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Having grown up right outside of D.C., Women’s Center student staff member Hannah has spent most of her life following politics, and uses that passion here to reflect on its lack of gender parity.

 

Did you know that if you say “women in politics” three times while looking in a mirror, Hillary Clinton appears behind you? Okay, maybe that theory isn’t 100% accurate, but she is the first person many people think of when hearing that phrase, and it’s easy to see why: as a former Senator, First Lady, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate, she has had a long career in the public eye, and with that has come the added burden of being one of a few successful women in a male-dominated field. With the release of her new book about what happened in the 2016 election (aptly named What Happened), this seemed like the perfect time to reflect on how we talk about women in politics and why it matters. From blatant sexism to the demonization of women’s ambition, the double standards and stereotypes these women face all serve to perpetuate misogyny and exclude women from some of the highest leadership positions our country has to offer.

~Disclaimer: This post is not a commentary on or endorsement of Hillary Clinton’s (or any other politician’s) stances. People on both sides of the aisle have perpetuated sexism in politics, and we are all responsible for taking steps to combat it.~

 

The Biggest Red Flag

It’s easy to see blatant sexism being used against Hillary in many parts of the 2016 election,  the most obvious of which being pro-Trump merchandise. Slogans like “Trump that bitch,” “Hillary sucks, but not like Monica,” and “Life’s a bitch; don’t vote for one” were worn proudly by many Trump supporters. Now, attacking one’s opposition–no matter what side of the aisle they are on–has been a part of campaigning since this country began, but criticism of policy ideas, voting records, and political experience is entirely different from pointedly gendered attacks. What’s troubling about this kind of rhetoric is the way it normalizes harmful gender stereotypes and makes people believe that this is an acceptable way of talking about others.

When I mentioned one of these slogans to someone I knew, he laughed and said that he “hates Trump,” but the slogan was funny. In my opinion, if you claim to hate a man who brags about sexual assault, you should also hate the misogyny that many of his supporters have no problem perpetuating.

 

The Demonization of Women’s Ambition

Men–especially those in positions of authority–are rarely pigeonholed as sex objects or domestic figures and then labeled as too aggressive or domineering when they seek positions that don’t fit those labels. There are lots of examples of male actors who have ran for or contemplated running for high-level elected office (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dwayne The Rock Johnson), and very few people have said that they’re too shallow or inexperienced to hold these executive positions, nor have I seen commentary This is not the case with women. In fact, Hillary Clinton’s openness about her ambition caused such a backlash that it spawned a cookie-baking contest between the two potential First Ladies. Seriously. During the 1992 primary race, California Governor Jerry Brown accused Bill Clinton of using his time in office as Arkansas’ governor to help his wife’s legal practice. Hillary Clinton then fired back by saying “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.” This struck such a chord with the American public–among both men who viewed her comment as “bitchy” and women who took offense to the notion that she viewed herself as being above domestic work–that the magazine Family Circle saw a way to capitalize off the controversy. Thus began a cookie-baking contest that has survived the last 25 years of politics. Oh, and another fun fact: Even though Hillary Clinton was the candidate in the 2016 election, she was still the one competing against Melania Trump. While I have nothing but respect for those who bring cookies into this world, we’re not living in the 1950s; domestic work should not be the only option available to women.

Most of the men I know would probably agree with that stance, but there is still a pervasive fear of powerful women. Many social psychologists attribute this to a phenomenon called precarious manhood. Essentially, men are afraid of being emasculated and consequently losing their manhood, and ambitious women can invoke such fears. Case in point: Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating has historically always been lower when she runs for office and demonstrates this ambition compared to when she is in office and less in the public eye.

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What’s more important: Hillary Clinton’s policies or her appearance?

 

Finding a Solution

If you’re reading this and thinking “I voted for Hillary Clinton so I can’t be sexist” or “I didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton, but that’s not because I secretly hate women!” then slow your roll. The point of this post is not to call all Hillary supporters perfect advocates for women or to claim that everyone who voted against her did so because of misogyny. In fact, people on the left are just as capable of perpetuating sexism as people on the right. Take Sarah Palin: while many people during her 2008 candidacy for Vice President had concerns about her experience and choices as Alaska’s governor, their criticism quickly blended with misogynistic commentary about her appearance and her more typically feminine persona (I wouldn’t recommend spending too long looking at google image results for “Caribou Barbie”). The point is to raise awareness about the way we as a society view women in politics, and why they are treated so differently than men. Double standards are everywhere: If a woman is too traditionally feminine, then she is too stupid to do the job, but if she demonstrates such capacity, then she is too aggressive. If she isn’t  domestic enough, then she is forced to release a chocolate chip cookie recipe, but once she does, then she is seen as fake and trying too hard to be likeable. If she shows emotion, then she is too sensitive, but if she doesn’t, then she’s too robotic. If she doesn’t have much political experience, then she should let someone more qualified do the job, but if she has the experience, then she should step back because her time in politics has gone on too long. With all of these sentiments weighing so heavily on the conversation, it’s hard for a woman winning an election to feel like much of a victory.

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Even SNL recognizes that there are women all along the political spectrum: maybe their ideas aren’t the reason why there are so few women in politics

If we want to improve representation in politics and promote women’s empowerment, then we have to improve the way we talk about the few women who are already in the public eye. This is about more than just “girl power.” Representation in politics–and in every other institution–does more than just make a prettier picture; it allows for everyone to feel that their voices are heard and their experiences matter. The Women’s Center here was founded in part to meet the unique needs that many women in college have, and the same principle applies in government. By listening to women’s voices, the UMBC community was able to better provide services that had been previously overlooked. If women are heard in local, state, and federal governments, imagine what can be accomplished. There is no one ideology held by all women in elected office, just as there is no one monolithic voice of all American women: when I talk about wanting equal representation in politics, I don’t want people to vote for a candidate simply because she’s a woman; I want there to be enough women running so that they don’t have to.
Further Reading:

At UMBC:

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Women in Politics Roundtable Round-Up

16665235_1240042186074587_3406555264375312519_oThe Women’s Center’s Spring Roundtable series has begun! On February 14th, we hosted the first of our three-part roundtable “Underrepresentation of Women in…” series. This roundtable was on “Women in Politics” and focused on the lack of women in the political sphere and the establishment.

For this discussion, our panelists were Political Science professor Lisa Vetter, Language Literacy and Culture student Colonel Ingrid Parker, and student staff member Kayla Smith.

The discussion opened with a question about gendered communication and how to express femininity in a workspace that’s male dominated. Kayla and Colonel Parker both agreed that being a “chameleon,” or being fluid in how they present themselves based on their audience, has worked for them in the past. 

The conversation then turned to Hillary Clinton’s presidential loss. The suggestion was made that the glass ceiling was now higher than it had previously been as a result of someone as qualified as Clinton losing to someone as seemingly unqualified as President Trump. People in politics may be more scared to back women running for office because women don’t seem to get the votes to take office. Therefore the goal of making a woman president is even more elusive. Furthermore, after learning that some women need to be asked more than five times to run for office, there was some concern that Clinton’s loss would discourage more women from entering the political sphere for fear of disappointment; however, Colonel Parker reminded everyone that the next step should be to stay hopeful and push forward no matter what happens. 

When Jess Myers asked about the silencing of Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor during the confirmation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Kayla pointed out that the silencing of Elizabeth Warren was really the silencing of Coretta Scott King. Kayla went on to explain that, because her feminism is intrinsically connected to her race, it’s impossible for her to ignore the ramifications she faces in the establishment due to being a black woman. 

When the discussion was opened up to the audience, a student asked a question about coping with the effects of mental health when looking at barriers to women in politics. Colonel Parker spoke about the benefits of finding coping mechanisms like eating well, spending time with family, and working out. Kayla suggested finding supportive groups of women to help and uplift you in the face of adversity. Women’s Center Assistant Director Megan Tagle Adams added that it isn’t always enough for their to be more women in a space but that they should also be supportive of women excelling instead of engaging in “mean girl” tactics.

Another audience member asked Kayla what her opinion was on changing the establishment to include women and people of color to which she responded, “It’s important for people to be educated. They need to learn that our government and political system is built on white supremacy, racism, and sexism. Nothing will change until people understand where we started and that those things still play a major role in our system.”

Overall, the subject of women’s underrepresentation in politics is vast and complicated and while we barely scratched the surface in this hour long discussion, we did our best to open the dialogue and get people talking and thinking.

Want more information? Below are some links further discussing women, the establishment, and politics.

So has this discussion fired you up? Are you interested in running for office (public, school, or otherwise)? Have you heard about Elect Her? Elect Her is a leadership program that encourages and trains college women to run for student government and future political office

There is an an Elect Her workshop on March 11th from 10:30-3:30 in Fine Arts 011. You will learn how to figure out what your message and platform is, how to craft a communication strategy that works, and you’ll hear from campus and community leaders about what it takes to win. It is going to be a great day!

If you have questions or want to RSVP, contact Dr. Kate. (drabinsk@umbc.edu.)

 

A Time to Resist + A Time to Take Care

amelia-meman-headshotA reflection written by Women’s Center Special Projects Coordinator, Amelia Meman

So here we are. Another day in this brave new world.

Are you exhausted yet? Emotionally, physically, psychologically?

If you’re not–congratulations! That’s really good and you are a sweet glowing angel.

If you are, though, you’re not alone and you are also a sweet glowing angel.

deadI’m tired, too. For all of us feminists, social justice warriors, and snowflakes, this is a tough time. The stream of executive actions and questionable cabinet appointments have rocked our communities and have malignantly affected some of the most vulnerable groups in the U.S. The fights we’ve been engaging in throughout every administration have been exacerbated and fear is alive more than ever. 

Seeing the reaction from social justice activists has been heartening for me in many ways. The women’s march was awesome and huge (though not without its fair share of criticism from Black women, the trans community, and many others). Other demonstrations against the refugee ban and the massive uptick in people contacting their elected representatives to demand accountability has shown us that massive swathes of the public have been activated to resist in a great variety of ways.

This work is both vital and neverending. Making an impact is difficult, exhausting work. It involves massive amounts of human energy. What I’m ultimately getting to is this: are you taking care of yourself right now? 
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Women’s March on Washington: We Marched. What’s Next?

A sampling of “what’s next” from UMBC community members, curated by Jess Myers, Women’s Center Director 

Last week, I shared some of my hopes and desired outcomes from the Women’s March on Washington. While I was looking forward to marching and being in relationship with other women and people at the march, I was (and am) more invested in the what’s next. In my blog, I wrote, “I want the momentum and energy to continue after the march, especially for those who are new to the movement, new to activism, new to seeing things that are unfair and unjust. I want us to stay loud. To stay critical. To stay visible and demand what is right, what is necessary. I want you to volunteer. I want you to keep learning and growing. I want you to find your activism (if you haven’t already) and make a difference. I want all those things for myself as well. 

On Saturday night and Sunday morning, my entire Facebook timeline was filled with amazing photos of the March (and also really important critiques of the march which you should also take some time to read). What was even more exciting than the photos, was the plans people were committing to in their post-march glow. So many people are fired up!

In my last post, I also reflected on the mission of the Women’s Center and our commitment to advocating for and advancing the rights of women and marginalized people. While the Women’s Center is a space and the people who work in it are committed to putting in the work, YOU, our community, are a huge part of that mission. We need you to help us live and be our mission. So with that in mind, I put a call out to some Women’s Center friends and former staff and asked them to share what their post-plans march are so I could share them as inspiration and motivation to our larger community. What I share below isn’t necessarily the full list each person shared with me but I love the breadth of ideas and action items.

So, I’ll go first…

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Women’s March on Washington

Jess MyersA reflection from Jess Myers, Women’s Center director 

Last weekend, I finally decided I would go to the Women’s March on Washington.

I’ve been to marches in the past. I drove 18 hours from Baltimore to Ft. Benning, Georgia in my early 20s for the School of Americas protest with a van load of Mercy nuns and my best friend. Attending college in Washington, D.C. during the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars had me popping on the Metro often enough to join an anti-war rally. My favorite Pride parades have been the ones I’ve walked in rather than watched from the sidelines. In Baltimore, I’ve marched for justice, for Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray, for Black Lives.

But, never have I marched for and with women for a platform dedicated to women’s rights.

A few weeks ago, I was in a room with several UMBC faculty members as they recalled their memories of past women’s marches. As they shared their experiences, it was evident that being in a space with thousands of other women advocating for women’s rights was a powerful moment for them. While each of the individuals who shared their stories have committed their lives to activism and feminism, those marches still held a unique and powerful place in their hearts. In fact, what was particularly striking was how they spoke about their experiences in relationship to those who were with them – their mothers, their daughters, their friends.

I want to be in relationship with other women and I’ve decided that going to this Saturday’s march is just one way I can do that. Continue reading

Why do Disability Issues Matter?

Prachi KocharWomen’s Center intern Prachi Kochar discusses the importance of disability in relation to many important issues that are going on today, such as police brutality and the 2016 presidential election. Rather than have disability be an afterthought, it should be brought to the forefront of our discussions about social justice issues. 

In conversations about social activism and social change, we must remember who is not being talked about. Who is being left out of these conversations and why? In particular, I have noticed a significant amount of ignorance about issues related to people with disabilities throughout my college experience, and relating to several different issues, ranging from accessibility at UMBC to the rights (and respect) of people with disabilities in 2016’s presidential race to how people with disabilities, especially those who are people of color — and especially Black people — are treated by police. People with disabilities are also often left out of conversations about social justice. Think about the last time you heard about a protest, discussion about a social justice issue, or rally. Was there any mention of wheelchair accessible-seating or sign language interpreters? This is particularly striking because 19% of the U.S. population, or 56.7 million people, have some kind of disability.

The word “disabled” and its meanings are often not critically considered, but it is important to remember that just like other identities, such as gender, race, and class, it is socially constructed. This perspective of disability emphasizes that it is society that disables people by rendering some services and institutions inaccessible to people as well as stigmatizing those who are considered to have disabilities. For example, deafness is not considered a disability by the Deaf community because within the Deaf community, there are no barriers to communication — everyone is able to use sign language and communicate clearly. It is also important to recognize that all people with disabilities cannot be lumped together. Even people who seem to have the same “type” of disability may have different needs. This is why it is especially important to listen to diverse groups of people with disabilities and center their voices and experiences, rather than non-disabled people.  

Even though I am deaf, as someone who does not have any mobility issues, I initially did not realize how inaccessible UMBC’s campus is to people with mobility issues, especially wheelchair users. For example, getting to the Performing Arts and Humanities Building only seems like a minor annoyance to me, one that just requires giving myself an extra five minutes to walk up all those stairs. However, for someone in a wheelchair, chronic pain, or with crutches, it is necessary to navigate a labyrinth of ramps, building entrances, and elevators to make it to class. Furthermore, most classroom doors, and even some building entrances, do not have buttons that allow them to open automatically, meaning that they must be pushed or pulled to allow access. The same is also true for many bathroom entrances, even bathrooms that have wheelchair accessible stalls. In this way, UMBC creates more barriers for people with mobility issues. Accessibility issues at UMBC do not exist in a vacuum; they reflect how people with disabilities are viewed and treated in American society, intersecting with other dimensions of identity, such as gender, race, and class.

Police brutality against people with disabilities, especially those who are people of color, is an issue rarely spoken about, but it is a very major one. As found in a report that analyzed incidents of police brutality between 2013-2015, up to half of people killed by the police have a disability. Police officers are typically the first respondents to mental health crisis 911 calls, but they are often not trained to deal with various mental health issues as well as physical, emotional, and intellectual disabilities. Furthermore, racism and anti-blackness as well as biases against people with disabilities – where they are perceived as “dangerous” and “non-compliant” greatly contribute to police brutality.

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Our Critical Social Justice keynote speaker Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha spoke about issues related to disability justice. You can watch the video of her lecture here!  (photo credit: Mike Mower)

Another major area in which disability issues are rarely discussed (except when something particularly shocking or offensive has been said) is the 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections. Yes, I can already hear your groans, but we need to talk about how people with disabilities could potentially be affected by this election, especially because many people with disabilities are women, LGBTQ+, or people of color who already face discrimination on those fronts. You’ve probably heard about Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter and him calling Marlee Matlin an ableist slur, but very little media attention has been given to the actual policy positions of both Trump and Clinton with regard to disability issues. However, these policies can actually be life or death for some people with disabilities.

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A major issue affecting people with disabilities is employment and salary equity. (credit: AIR.org)

Donald Trump has said little about people with disabilities with regard to official policy positions. Although he has praised himself for making the buildings on his properties accessible to people with disabilities (building wheelchair ramps, for example), this is mandated under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Multiple cases have also come up in which lawsuits were filed because his properties did not comply with ADA guidelines.

Hillary Clinton has been much more vocal on the topic of disability rights, using the failings of Donald Trump to emphasize how she will support people with disabilities. However, while Clinton is miles ahead of Trump on disability issues, that does not mean she is perfect. Her campaign has been criticized for portraying disability rights from the perspective of those without disabilities, rather than amplifying the voices of people with disabilities. Furthermore, despite her stated support of people with disabilities and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Clinton has not given much information on exactly how she will support people with disabilities and what specific issues she will address, creating doubt as to how effective she will be on disability-related policies. While it is important to recognize that Clinton is much better than Trump, it is also important to be critical of her policies and ask for better.

The Democratic Party has also shown their support of disability rights, by focusing on disability issues at the Democratic National Convention and having multiple speakers with disabilities as well as accommodations for all. Even though we have a long way to go with increasing accessibility for people with disability as well as awareness of the issues that people with disabilities face, it is possible for us, both people with disabilities and people without disabilities, to begin making a positive difference and to support disability justice. One of the major ways that we can do that is voting — so make sure you go out and vote if you are able to do so! Together, we can make a positive change and advocate for disability justice. 

Resource Round-Up 

Voter Suppression

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A brief thought by student staff Shira Devorah 

This coming Tuesday, I’m going vote in the Maryland Primaries!

I’m excited to participate in this election, but I am also really wary.

Voter suppression is a topic that’s pretty new to me. I’ve never voted before, let alone spent too much time looking into how it works. Most of my efforts have gone towards researching candidates, not worrying that I won’t even get a chance to speak. I knew a little bit about Photo ID laws (boo), but that was about it. I didn’t know about voter suppression before my more politically aware friend pointed it out to me. I like to think that I’m well informed, but clearly I haven’t been paying enough attention. And now that I’m about to vote for the first time, I’m worried that there are a ton of students just as unaware as I am.

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Source: The American Civil Liberties Union

Voter suppression includes a range of strategies aimed at discouraging or preventing people from exercising their right to vote. It can be done legally, through unfair laws, or illegally, through underhanded tactics. Either way, it is a social justice and feminist issue. When politicians get in the way of equity for all, we must educate ourselves and take a stand against unjust practices. Continue reading