The first female Speaker of the House and thus the highest-ranking female in U.S. history, Nancy Pelosi has sparked debate among Mills women about whether she will usher in an era of female power or continue gender problems.
Delaine Eastin, special assistant to President Janet Holmgren and a former politician who worked with Pelosi starting in the 1970s, says that Pelosi and the other women, such as Congresswoman Barbara Lee, will increase the status of females in America.
“When a legislature or congress reaches over 30 percent female membership, it raises the status of women,” Eastin said.
She cited some of Pelosi’s key work, such as pro-choice work and her participation in organizations such as EMILY’s List, a group dedicated to helping Democratic women achieve political office.
She added that most of the political change resulting from the election of women politicians occurs because of the women inspired by these politicians. “[Pelosi] will help get more women to want to govern the country and that will have an effect.”
Many Mills students agreed with Eastin that Pelosi, who graduated from Trinity, a women’s college in Washington, may serve as a role model for females.
Lynnette Arnold, a Mills sophomore who followed Pelosi throughout November’s election, said that Pelosi’s achievement should spur Mills students to go into politics.
“It’s an encouragement that says, yes, you too can succeed in public policy,” Arnold said.
Hannah Peragine, also a Mills sophomore, said that Pelosi will be a more refined role model for young women than the flashy celebrities the girls are normally exposed to.
“They see a woman on TV who is not in skanky clothes and uses big words,” Peragine said.
Mills women also voiced concern for the way gender could negatively temper with Pelosi’s public image
Arnold said that the media displayed a bias in many recent articles, focusing on stereotypical female priorities such as family and the home.
“Women get run over coals that men don’t,” Arnold said. “Their families, their homes and things that don’t have to do with their policies get reported on and wouldn’t happen for male politicians.”
Reports of this bias include President Bush’s comment that he would recommend a Republican interior designer to help Pelosi pick out curtains, and an article published on Nov. 9 in the San Francisco Chronicle which began with an anecdote about Pelosi mistaking a phone call from the President for a call about her daughter giving birth.
Peragine voiced similar concerns about Pelosi’s gender affecting her presentation in the media, focusing on the controversy over who will become the majority leader.
Peragine said that articles such as the Chronicle‘s Nov. 17 coverage set a her-against-them dichotomy between Pelosi and her mostly male peers over electing Steny Hoyer over her friend John Murtha.
“I wonder if it would have been portrayed [so personally] if she was a man, because there was a legitimate gripe with her guy,” Peragine said, referring to Murtha.
According to the Oakland Tribune, Murtha implied he would accept bribes in the future when undercover FBI agents offered him money in return for political favors.
Arnold said that she fears Pelosi might lessen advocacy for female rights to prevent strife with her male peers and resist the label of “San Francisco feminist liberal.”
“She’s a strong advocate of women’s rights, but with becoming the Speaker of the House, it might drive her more toward the middle ground,” she said.
In a speech given Nov. 16, Pelosi said that she considers the party’s win to be more important than gender in this election.
“Everyone is very excited about the thought that I am the first woman speaker-I’m just absolutely delighted that we have a democratic speaker and a democratic majority in the House of Representatives,” Pelosi said.
Arnold agreed that gender should not dominate how politics are viewed.
“My stance is on political beliefs, not man and woman,” she said. “I’d like to see her actual politics and what [Pelosi] stands for.”