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"Perceptions of Women in Politics: A Dialogue About Work, Family, Sex Appeal and Elections,” drew quite a crowd to the Ruby R. Vale Moot Courtroom on the evening of Thursday, October 23rd. Put together by the Women’s Law Caucus
, the event assessed the images and portrayal of women in the political arena and looked at the work family conflict and sexism as well as women’s experiences and challenges in running for election to public office.
Panelists for the discussion included Widener Law Dean Linda Ammons
, Delaware County Council Chairperson Linda Cartisano, Professor Leslie Johnson
, and Women’s Law Caucus Vice President Jennifer Weiler. Professor Alicia Kelly
served as both the moderator and a speaker.
After a short introduction from Women’s Law Caucus President Destiny Prater, Dean Ammons spoke about her experiences as an executive assistant to Ohio Governor Richard F. Celeste from 1988 to 1991. Dean Ammons described one incident in which an official from another state kept looking to other members of a delegation that she was in charge of, noting, “It was always interesting to deal with people for the first time as a woman, and as an African-American woman.”
Linda Cartisano spoke next about her experiences running for office and as an elected member of Delaware County Council. A graduate of Widener, she earned her J.D. from Temple Law School. She served as Solicitor for Upland Borough from 1988-2001 and became only the fifth woman elected to Delaware County Council in 2002. Discussing potential prejudice against women in politics and campaigning, she said, “I have not in my elected career experienced that,” but she noted that the “authority of being a lawyer” might have made her experience different from that of other women running for political office. She discussed the work-family conflict as a potential source of much of the difficulty women experience in the political arena, prompting Professor Kelly to say, “Work-family conflict is the biggest obstacle according to the literature. The evidence shows that women win as often as men when they do run, but they run less.”
Professor Kelly then showed a series of three videos related to the perception of women in the current election cycle. The first video was a clip from the video-biography of Sarah Palin shown at the Republican Convention the night after her speech. The second video showed a portion of Michelle Obama’s speech from the Democratic Convention, and the third clip came from a Saturday Night Live sketch in which Tina Fey portrayed Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler portrayed Hilary Clinton as they delivered a “non-partisan” message about sexism having no place in an American election. Each of the videos offered a particular angle on how gender can play a role in the campaign, and they led to several interesting discussions.
Professor Leslie Johnson cracked several amusing jokes as she spoke about her experience as a child in the fifties with no female political role models, and then described the changing climate over the ensuing decades. She showed a sign that exists in Alaska that says, “Alaska the coolest state with the hottest governor,” and contrasted that with two signs she made saying, “Rendell: Sexy as Hell” and “Richardson: Our Best Butt”. She powerfully stated that “If there is sexism in politics – and I believe that there is – then sometimes, women contribute to it, and I think its because we want it both ways.”
Jennifer Weiler finished up the panel’s presentation noting some of the differences she had perceived between the treatment of Sarah Palin and the male candidates, speaking especially of the recent attention paid to the amount of money spent on the Governor’s wardrobe. She also observed, ”75% of women do not consider themselves Feminists because the word has a negative connotation.”
The panel then opened the event up to audience participation and questions, precipitating some great discussion. Topics included whether or not it was fair to attack Palin on her skills as a mother, the treatment of Hilary Clinton by the media in the primary, and why much less attention seemed to be paid to how Todd Palin might be able to help his wife raise the children than was paid to how Michelle Obama could help her husband. A reception followed the event, allowing people to continue the discussion as they enjoyed some refreshments.