Women have come a long way since gaining the right to vote, but still have a long way to go. This was the message conveyed in a panel discussion last night where Michigan Democratic women leaders joined with female campus leaders to address the role of women in politics.
But the notion that female elected officials should support other elected women, even if they have opposing political beliefs, is questionable, said state Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor).
“It’s important to have a critical mass of women in office, however just because it’s a woman, don’t assume she’ll have progressive views on women’s issues,” Brater said. “A lot of men have feminist views too.”
Other members made similar statements focusing on womens’ issues rather than gender. Democratic National Committee member Debbie Dingell said it is important for women’s issues to not be pigeonholed to topics like abortion. She said improved healthcare and education are also integral to women’s issues.
Unfortunately, women working for women’s issues in a mostly-male environment may need to pay attention to how they are perceived, Brater said.
“I’m aware that some people are sensitive about an outspoken woman because women tend to be socialized to be quiet and polite,” she said.
Dingell told the gender-diverse audience that if women want to be taken seriously, they must be tough, while State Board of Education member Liz Bauer (D-Birmingham) said that a woman should be “direct without being aggressive.”
“You should always stay grounded in policy because it should be about performance, not personality,” Bauer said.
When asking supporters for campaign donations, women have to “give up their inhibitions” because fundraising is crucial for a successful campaign, Brater added.
Michigan Student Assembly President Sarah Boot spoke about the positive and negative experiences she had as a female campus leader. “I felt like I had to prove myself because people kept telling me I had big shoes to fill,” Boot said.
At Boot’s first Board of Regents meeting last year, she said her attire was privately discussed among regents because some regents thought it was inappropriate.
“It was like I was reduced to an object,” Boot added.
Students for Choice Clair Morrissey said when organizing on campus it is important to remember women’s issues are also men’s issues.
“I desire to organize in feminist ways in an institution built by men,” Morrissey said. “However, we must break out of the box of what others think being a feminist means.”