Posted by Maya Paley
IT’S WOMEN’S EQUALITY DAY THIS SUNDAY (AUGUST 26): Are we equal yet???
Here’s some groundbreaking information that I think may surprise you: gender equality does not exist in our political system. Are you shocked yet? I’m going to assume you’re not, but allow me to provide you with some statistical evidence of just how bad it really is:
• Only 27 States have yet to elect a woman Governor
• Only 3 States have yet to elect a woman to Congress
• Only 17% of seats in Congress are held by women
• Only 12% of US Governors are women
• Only 23% of State Legislators are women
If that’s not enough for you, how about this one?
The US places 79th in the world in rankings of the number of women political leaders
. We’re behind countries like Sudan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Morocco, Cambodia, and Bolivia. Rwanda is number one on the list.
At this point, you’re probably either asking why more women are not in public office or why does this even matter? Let’s start with the first: why are we not in public office?
On Tuesday I attended the Women’s Public Leadership Summit hosted by The 2012 Project and the Rutgers’ Center for American Women and Politics. I learned the aforementioned facts at the Summit, but I also learned what the main barriers are to women getting into political office.
1. We are afraid to run. As Rachel Michelin of California Women Lead succinctly put it, “The biggest obstacle for women in getting politically involved is themselves.” We don’t think we can do it. We don’t think we can raise the money. We don’t think we’re qualified enough. And we don’t run until we’re asked to do so.
2. Incumbency. We all know it’s hard to get elected when running against incumbents. But the good news is that every 20 years, including 2012, we go through redistricting, opening up new seats that women can more easily tap into. The hard part—it’s only every 20 years!
3. We don’t support each other enough. Women are not out there supporting women running for office as much as they should be. Yes, this is my personal opinion, but I think I’m right on this one. One example is young women voters (ages 18-29). According to political strategist Celinda Lake, young women support women candidates, but lately they have not been showing up to vote. Unmarried women’s votes plummeted from 59% in 2008 to 38% in 2010.
So why does all this matter?
Hmm, let’s see…
maybe because an entire half of our nation is not represented under a government in which the elected officials are supposed to represent the needs of ALL THE PEOPLE
The research brought up at the Summit clarified why we need equal representation among elected officials. Women in office consider women’s issues more than men in office do. The Founder of The 2012 Project, Mary Hughes, has said, “research shows that women leaders introduce more bills, bring more resources home to their districts and advocate for new issues on the legislative agenda.” In other words, women create change, and we need it.
At the NCJW/LA event on the Affordable Care Act this past Wednesday, I learned from panelist Susan Berke Fogel, who directs the reproductive health and justice programs at the National Health Law Program, that over 50% of the counties in California do not provide access to abortions.
In a State with two women Senators, how is this possible? It’s because we think we’re doing enough by having two women Senators, but we’re not. We do not have enough women in public office on the local and state levels. 28% of the CA State Legislature is comprised of women. That’s a pretty good number when you compare it to some other states that have much lower percentages, but it’s not equal representation, and it’s time we stopped saying to ourselves that we’ve come so far and we’re doing so well. We did come so far and do so well twenty years ago, but we haven’t increased the numbers of women in a serious way since then. This is not progress in my book.
We can catalyze change for ourselves and for other women throughout this country.
Here’s the positive spin: there are more women running for Congress in 2012 than ever before and possibly more women running for other elected positions than ever before as well (the 2012 project website). I know I’m going to vote and I know you are as well, but let’s make sure to get everyone else we know out there too.
Seems like we’re forgetting how relevant politics is to our lives. We women share everything with each other including what we eat, what we buy, who we like, and what we’re worried about, but we don’t share much about politics. Let’s change that. Let us share how we feel about our reproductive rights, our wages, our healthcare, how we’re treated in the military, at work, in public, in the media, and in our own homes. Let’s share how we feel about the way our bodies are discussed in politics as though they’re not even ours. And let’s publicly and loudly support the women with the courage to run for any elected position, which I’m sure is much harder than they make it look.
Question of the week: What is the biggest predictor for you when voting for elected officials? Do you think it’s important that we focus on getting more women in office or should we just focus on increasing the knowledge base of everyone in office on women’s issues?
Two more things: I’m now accepting submissions from guest bloggers about any issue you think is related to this blog in some way. So if you’re interested, please submit your blog post of no more than 1000 words to firstname.lastname@example.org. Second thing: I love your comments and loved the rules submitted by some of you last week. Keep ‘em coming!
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August 15, 2012 | 4:10 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
A colleague at NCJW/LA recently sent me the “10 Rules for Brilliant Women” list written by Tara Sophia Mohr. Mohr writes that she knows “many brilliant women who don’t believe in the brilliance of their own ideas—and as a result, don’t share them boldly.” In response to this, Mohr published her now infamous 10 rules, including things like “get a thick skin,” “question the voice that says ‘I’m not ready yet,” and “filter advice.” What I love most about these rules is number 10—“let other women know they are brilliant.” I’ll tell you why.
You Are Beautiful
I took a class on Female Sexuality my last year of college. The course was peer taught. It basically was intensive group therapy with a bunch of women for four hours a week. I honestly wish I could have continued taking it for the rest of my life. It was that powerful. We discussed issues that affect us, like sexual assault and harassment, power dynamics, sexuality, and self-acceptance. One of my first assignments was to go up to a woman I did not know and tell her she was beautiful. I know this sounds silly and easy to some people, but for me it was a big challenge.
I walked around campus for a week trying to find a woman to say this to. I was not looking for a supermodel. I was looking for someone whose beauty, intelligence, and soul radiated through her. And I was trying to ignore my own personal issues with how awkward it is to just go up to someone and give her a compliment. It’s something many men do all the time to women, but most of the time their intentions are to hit on them. For me, there was nothing to be gained from this encounter.
When I finally did find her, she was sitting on the stairs outside of one of the main humanities buildings and looked like she was having a rough day. I walked up and said “I just wanted to tell you that you’re beautiful.” She was surprised and said I had made her day and kept telling me about how nice I was. I felt great!
In retrospect, I think it was such a relief for once to not feel in competition with another woman, which was ingrained in me just by growing up in Los Angeles. Since then, I’ve tried to continue complimenting other women—letting them know how smart, beautiful, capable, strong, and special they are.
Nah, You’re Just Saying That
What doesn’t come easy is the acceptance of such statements. Most of my girlfriends will respond with comments like “I don’t know” or “You’re just saying that because you’re my friend.” Actually, I’m not. I really have no need to say such things if I don’t mean them. I just happen to be lucky to have incredible women in my life and I’m being honest.
So here’s what I’ve come to realize. I think that before we can even take Mohr’s rules into account, which focus on being bold and sharing our brilliant ideas with the world, we need to love and accept ourselves first. Here are some rules I’ve come up with (for myself) on how to do this:
10 Rules for Loving Ourselves (for Women)
1. Know Yourself: Figure out what motivates you, what activities make you happy, and what negatively and positively triggers you.
2. Accept Your Quirks: Accept that you have moods, good days, bad days, strange habits, and random interests that some people will think are awesome and others just won’t. You are unique.
3. Accept Compliments: Stop saying “you’re just saying that” to people complimenting you. If they’re giving you a compliment, they’re doing it because they want to.
4. Ignore Insults: If people say mean things about you or insult you, that’s their problem, not yours. They need to work out their own issues. It’s a symptom of our society; our TV shows and media are largely teaching us to hate and be jealous of each other when we really should be working together and supporting each other. The point is to let these things go in one ear and out the other. I know it sounds hard, but it pays off so just try it.
5. Be Open to Constructive Criticism: Totally different than insults, constructive criticism is useful. And if you’re open to it, it can help you improve yourself, your relationships, your career, and your daily life tremendously. It’s hard (especially for me being the perfectionist I am), but we have to not take things too personally or be overly sensitive when people are giving us advice that is actually coming from a compassionate place. When a friend tells me to calm down or relax when I’m overly stressed about work or about getting everything done, I often want to scream, “If I could relax, I would,” but the truth is that they’re just trying to help and make me see that I really need to calm down (whatever that means) because this non-stop lifestyle is harmful.
6. Always Work on Improving Your Life: Stay focused not on who you want to be or what your flaws are, but on how you want to live your life and take small steps to make that happen. For me, taking a few hours of my week to just do nothing is hard as I think you can infer from my previous rule, but those few hours of nothingness calm me down and make me happier in the longer run. It’s hard, but I’m trying.
7. Accept Yourself Again: Accept that it’s not easy to create the exact life you want, but you are doing the best you can to make it happen.
8. Say You Love Yourself: Practice saying “I love myself” and own it. I started noticing that some of my male friends would tell me that they loved themselves. Yes, it can be said in a really cocky manner, but they were genuinely saying that they respected themselves and were at peace with who they are. I may not personally know you, but I know that every single person has something to offer to themselves, to others, and to the world we live in. You have to recognize your greatness and be proud of yourself for all that is you. Say it out loud.
9. Don’t Hate: Do your best to not gossip negatively about other people, especially about other women and their appearance. As women, we don’t need these kinds of divisions between us anymore. I don’t mean don’t vent about things going on in your life or about challenges you’re facing with other people. I just mean there is no need to say something negative about someone’s looks or what they’re wearing. We all face a lot of judgment by others based on how we look and what we wear and we know that usually the perceptions people have of us are false, so let’s not perpetuate this practice.
10. Spread the Love: Tell other people how great, smart, beautiful, and capable they are, even if it’s awkward.
I want to invite you to submit your most inspiring rules for yourself as comments.
It can be 10 rules, five rules, or just one. I look forward to reading them.
August 7, 2012 | 8:49 pm
Posted by Maya Paley
I have received several emails and comments on this topic since I started this blog a few weeks ago. They all say the same thing: “Maya, I understand what you’re saying and I respect it, but I can’t call myself a feminist.” A few people sent me the infamous article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. First of all, I love that we’re having a real conversation about this! That’s the whole point, right?
The gist of the Slaughter article is that she had based her very successful career on her feminist beliefs, and had felt superior to other women who had children but were choosing to slow down or take time off from their careers to spend time with their kids. She later realized that she herself was neglecting her family and, in reality, could not have it all. So she resigned from her position as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department. Slaughter’s thesis: “I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.”
We have issues.
I have to agree with Slaughter on the flaws of our current society. Look, I have an intense appreciation for the United States. We have the freedom to write, say, read whatever we want, the freedom to practice any religion we desire, the right to an education, the right to vote in democratic elections, etc. What I don’t appreciate, however, is the downward spiral of depression, dissatisfaction, and burnout we face as Americans because of the overvaluing of work and money-making. I agree with Slaughter—the state of our country today is less than supportive of a happy, warm and fuzzy, family-friendly life. Women in my generation are burning out by age 30 for crying out loud!!!
Back to our favorite word
Here’s where I digress from the comments and emails I’ve been receiving. While I agree that our country has headed in the wrong direction, I don’t agree with Slaughter’s perspective on feminism. Here again is my definition of feminism:
I see feminism as a quest for equal rights for women. But I also include the following in my definition:
•accepting that each woman has the capacity and the right to choose and determine the correct path for her
• accepting all people who define themselves as feminists including male allies, transgender individuals, sex workers, and others into the feminist community
• working toward an end to acrimony between women
I underlined the part that I think is most crucial to this conversation. The concept of feminism has gone through many changes over the years. Definitions can be malleable over time similar to how words like Republican and queer have changed tremendously over the decades. My goal is to reclaim the word feminist so that those of us who grew up with certain automatic images of feminists can conquer that stereotype and create a new, dynamic, open-minded, and accepting type of feminism that works for us. Choosing to slow down in your career to take care of your children does not make you an anti-feminist.
Hating on women who do so does.
Yes we have issues, so let’s fix them.
If anything, the most important piece for me is that we need to change the world we live in. Our society’s structure is problematic and lacks conscience. We value the wrong things and shun the right things. Feminism reminds us of all of this. It reminds us that gender still plays a major role in why our country continues to run the way it does. If men saw and accepted themselves as co-parents the way women are seen as parents, they would appreciate and support more flexible types of work, more vacation time to spend with families, and healthier work-life balance models both for women and for themselves. As long as we continue to view men as the bread-winners who need to be out making money all day long and perpetuating a level of competitiveness in our society, we will not have the changes we want. We as women cannot work a million hours a week and raise our children with love and care becauseno one can do it like that
. It’s not the economy—it’s our values.
The point is that we’re still living in a world in which the rules of social acceptance, values, and laws are created by and for men. If we want to have it all, let us stand together and say so.
Side note: This post is being written from a heteronormative frame of reference. I do, however, think that queer women can also relate because many are raising children and trying to succeed professionally in a man’s world. Slaughter reminds us that she is writing from the perspective of a white, privileged woman. I think that feminism, reclaimed to accept and include all people who want to change the rigid value system we live in, can speak to anyone regardless of race, sex, gender, ethnicity, level of education, level of income, sexuality, or religion.