When New Hampshire Rep. Janet Wall bought a house, it was her husband’s name that appeared on the mortgage. When she applied for a credit card after becoming the breadwinner of her family, the company refused to put the card in her name.
New Hampshire Rep. Claire Rouillard has six siblings, yet her lone brother was the only child to have college savings put aside by their parents. Part-time jobs and hard work paid her way to becoming a political official.
It was events like these that led 13 female representatives and senators from across New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts to run for office. And it was knowing that events like these could happen to future generations of women that led the political leaders to UNH recently.
Fifty college campuses across the United States and Jamaica were selected this year to hold Elect Her, an educational program that encourages young women to run for office. On Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, Elect Her visited UNH through support from the UNH women's studies program and the Social Justice Leadership Project.
The event kicked off with a dinner Friday night followed by training sessions on Saturday. Directed by women’s studies coordinator Faina Bukher, the guests joined UNH faculty and students to share their experiences in politics.
Led by facilitator Pamela O’Leary, 60 students were trained in political techniques and campaign strategies, learning how to give 30-second speeches to promote themselves, known as elevator speeches. One section included a campaign simulation and another detailed the importance of message.
“They all said, ‘A woman running for a seat among men? You won’t win, don’t worry.’ We went to every house in the district and won by seven votes,” said New Hampshire Rep. Mary Jane Wallner, who combated doubt from others by handing out pamphlets door-to-door with her granddaughters.
A similar thread of doubt laced the stories of almost all who spoke, yet they stressed the importance of resilient women in politics. “I was told I would lose by so much it would be an embarrassment. I’m now in my 15th term,” Wall said.
New Hampshire Rep. Katherine Prudhomme-O’Brien ran for office after being laughed at by a former governor's aide for her work as an anti-rape and anti-violence advocate. “I refuse to give up. I plow through life. Don’t give in,” she said.
“I admire the confident women who roar and do things in the style of an exclamation point,” said New Hampshire Rep. Susan Ticehurst. “But a quiet word of encouragement is pivotal — that is also power. You may well have the key to success for the project or idea, no matter if your style is a roar or a whisper.”
After the women shared their stories, participants split into groups, receiving discussion prompts ranging from challenges facing future generations of women to the role of the current generation as political and social justice leaders.
Participants shared stories about the struggle to manage work and motherhood, subtle sexism found in social media and the lowering of women’s status to a measure of their physical appeal.
One UNH faculty member brought her adolescent children to partake in the discussions. They sat at a table reserved for children, dubbed “the Malala Yousafzai table” after the young feminist from Pakistan.
“It’s still not a woman’s world out there,” said Wall. “We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
Elect Her is a collaborative effort of the American Association of University Women, She Should Run and Running Start. Several colleges and organizations across UNH and New Hampshire sponsored the event, including the Carsey School of Public Policy, the department of political science, the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, UNH School of Law, the New Hampshire Women’s Foundation and many others.
A poli-sci and women’s studies professor weighs in
With movements such as Elect Her, and with two female candidates in the running for the upcoming presidential election, it’s only a matter of time before Ms. President occupies the Oval Office.
UNH Today asked professor of political science and women’s studies Marla Brettschneider what it would mean for women and the ongoing women’s movement to have a female in the White House and how that might change conversations about women’s issues. Here’s what she said:
It could be an important symbolic shift in terms of recognition politics. There are things that can be hard to turn back the clock on once people can really imagine an alternative to the male icon U.S. president. At the same time, if the person has not emerged out of solid work in the feminist movement it would be unclear how a woman president would impact the issues on a broad U.S. feminist agenda as well as actual women, girls and feminists at home and abroad. Identity does not equal a political commitment to a group and a set of issues.
Undoubtedly, the conversations about women’s issues would change. She would likely have a battle in others accepting her authority and what sorts of things will be discussed about her in the media. Again, the conversation will only also change in terms of meaningfully addressing feminist concerns in both the domestic and international arenas if these are on the agenda of the president, staff and party.