by Rhonda Bishop
I talked with women in Tampa, both inside and outside of the RNC — as I milled around hotels, waited for Tampa’s downtown shuttle services, and attended functions. Here’s what they had to say:
Kelly Smith, 30, Kansas
Q: What brings you to the 2012 Republican National Convention?
A: I have an interest in running for political office one day, but I don’t know a lot about politics. My husband is heavily engaged in local politics and thought it would be a great start for me to learn on a national scale. I am also curious to learn more about women’s engagement in politics specifically, so that I may take information back to Kansas in hopes of cultivating more women in local politics.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how familiar are you with Romney/Ryan policy platform?
A: About a 2.
Rebecca Pyle; Hays, Kansas
Q: How active are you in politics?
A: I live in a small community but everyone is very active in politics; both local and federal. My husband is the chairman of the Republican Party within our community. I am here to support my husband, our community and Governor Mitt Romney in his presidential bid.
Q: Why do you think there are unequal participation numbers when it comes to women running for office?
A: I think that women have greater accountability in raising their families, and that alone is a full-time job. While men frequently travel for business, it’s not socially acceptable for women to drop all of their responsibilities at home for their work. Women do a lot—and raising your family is just as important as running for Congress. I try not to pit “women vs. men” as I believe your qualifications matter more than what gender you are. We hear a lot about women’s rights but the truth is we as a country have lost a lot of men’s rights too.
Q: On a scale of 1 to 10, how familiar are you with Romney/Ryan policy platform?
A: An 8.
Alexis Chamberlain, 25; Tampa, Florida
Q: What are your hopes for both parties regarding addressing women and reproductive rights?
A: I really hope that we can allow women the right to control their own bodies. I have personally been through situations where if I did not have organizations such as Planned Parenthood, I would’ve been screwed. I just really hope that none of our rights go away and I think that it’s really important for men not to be making these decisions and I think it’s really important for women to be more involved.
Tiffany Francoris, 21; High Point, North Carolina
Q: What do you think are the political priorities for youth during this upcoming election?
A: Personally, I do not believe in voting but if I did vote, education is important to me. I think Governor Romney has done a lot of great things in the state of Massachusetts and I agree with his policies—throwing more money at education is not the solution.
Q: How can both political parties come together to support women’s rights?
A: I strongly feel that both parties need to keep religion out of the conversation. A lot of times with women’s rights, religion is brought into it and it’s not about religion—it’s not about what you believe. It’s about what’s best for women. And right now in this country, you should have the right to control decisions affecting your body. I think both parties need to come together and remember that they are legislating what’s best for people and to come together in the middle.
Q: As a young woman, what are your concerns about advancing your career and what do you think are some of your challenges as you navigate the job sector?
A: Being a black woman—it’s double-fold challenges. First, I think men definitely get more job opportunities—and again being black, there are always underlined racial prejudices. Job recruiters may not even be aware that it’s happening but it’s happened to me. Right now I am a psychology/youth sociology major and I am really concerned because the jobs that are available to me are mostly within counseling and teaching—and it’s a very tough job market. With hundreds of schools and hospitals cutting cost—I am going to have to fight really hard to land a job.
I really like to know ask Congress if education is the gateway to the American Dream, and I get great grades and graduate with honors and don’t find any jobs—what’s next for me? Should I create another dream?
Although I don’t vote for religious reasons, but I consider myself a moderate conservative. I believe that government should not be all in your business but I think it’s important to help people.
Emily Martik, 22; Southwestern Pennsylvania
Q: As a young woman, are you excited for this upcoming election? Why or why not?
A: I am very excited about the upcoming election. I am a Democrat, here at the Republican National Convention, and I have found many young women who are Republicans and agree with me on many different topics and that is so refreshing to see! You think that, the way that [the media] sells these two parties, it’s the “American” party and then there’s the “Other” and both parties are guilty of doing it.
I think in me coming here and meeting different Republicans and actually talking with them, that there is no “other” we are all just Americans…we’re all just women.
Q: With the alarmingly low rate of women in elected office in Congress, how can women get more actively engaged in running and holding public office?
A: I think that Hilary Clinton really broke the glass ceiling when she ran for President in 2008, and I also closely watched Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann’s presidential bid. I think you really have to listen to women—society is very dismissive of women in politics, as they can projected as those “crazy feminist” for displaying convictions, passion and directedness—all qualities that men who run for office do not get flack for. I feel like society is subjected women in politics to a very narrow media portrayal-those who are passionate and direct are quick to be labeled as the “angry feminist”, which mostly characterizes women candidates as being “emotional” or “angry” — which isn’t fair — or they give women political spotlight to be the “warm voice”, like Ann Romney, as she is at the convention in hopes of humanizing Mitt Romney or even Michelle Obama, who has often been charged with humanizing President Obama as well.
But women can do more than just humanizing male candidates and women can do more than being on camera to reinforce the “angry feminist persona”—as women we are capable, fully-functional human beings. I think that women should be given more of a substantial role in media as well as in politics. Collectively, women from both parties have to work together to demand more opportunities for women in politics and we have to support one another…regardless of party because as women we have to speak up for one another.
Libby Jelink, 20; Sacramento, California
Q: As you prepare to graduate from college, what concerns do you have?
A: I don’t feel extremely secure coming out of college, as even looking for summer jobs have been a challenge. I’ve looked all over and could not even find an unpaid internship—I ended up just taking a house sitting job for one of my family friends. It’s really frustrating because employers won’t hire just for summer anymore, they want something that’s going to longer term. It’s been really hard because I can remember a time when summer jobs were everywhere. Even with minimum wage jobs, as a lot of jobs that I have looked at, require a college degree because it’s difficult for older generations to land jobs and I think that in the hiring process—they are getting the priority.
I am so frustrated because I am not gaining the work experience needed to be hired in the future—I mean why would someone hire me in the future? They will say that I don’t have enough experience, which is like a paradox—I can’t get experience without having a job and I can’t get a job without having experience.
Q: What do you think both parties can be doing to effectively address minimum wage in this country?
A: I won’t pretend to be an expert on economics, as the minimum wage debate can be confusing. But I have lots of friends who could not find jobs and are waitresses, bartenders and hostesses and really would support raising minimum wage to help with their living expense as they look for more full-time work. It’s tough to juggle student loan payments with rent—as the economy is really tough. There has to be jobs out there for people to be able to make a living. I know that making a minimum wage too high creates another set of problems but your wages should reflect your city’s cost of living—that is only fair.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve been given with regards to navigating your career?
A: Being the “yes” woman and taking risks. Always work hard—there are a lot of women who work their butts off but I believe that through hard work, people will start to recognize your potential and give you more opportunities.
Q: Can you give me 3 things that you’ve been exposed to at the RNC that have shifted your perception about politics?
A: I think the RNC has really surprised me at the number of youth that are passionate and engaged in politics. At my university, a lot of my friends don’t care about politics and there is low voter advocacy—they don’t think their vote will make a difference. So it’s nice being here and being surrounded by other 20-somethings that care about politics. We might have completely different ideologies but we can sit down and discuss ideas without demonizing each other or getting offended. This has made me more hopeful about the political process and compromising on solutions that work for all of America. Lastly, listening to media and attending the RNC has taught me to form your own opinion—talk to people. Don’t just take things at face value.
YWCA correspondents are attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., August 27-30 and the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., from September 3-6. Ask our correspondents questions and our Twitter updates by using these Twitter hashtags: #ywcaRNC and #ywcaDNC. Learn more.