By Stephanie Wang – 11th Grade, Peters Township High School
It’s no secret that female representation is lacking in U.S. government. While I certainly realized that before joining GirlGov, I had never quite realized the extent of the issue. More importantly, I didn’t know why it was a problem.
Compared internationally, the U.S. continues to fall behind other countries in female representation, ranking 84th in worldwide female leadership. Additionally, despite making up half of the national population, no woman has ever been elected president in the U.S., and few have even run. In the 2013 U.S. Congress, only 18.5% of the 535 members were women. The situation in the state of Pennsylvania is even more grim. Political participation for women in Pennsylvania received a low grade of D-minus in 2015, the same grade it received in 2004. In Pennsylvania, only one woman serves in an elected statewide office (Attorney General Kathleen Kane), and in its state legislature, only 17.8% of the seats are held by women. Moreover, Pennsylvania has never had a female governor or U.S. Senator.
This lack of female representation in politics can be traced back to the belief that women are somehow less suited for certain jobs than their male counterparts. Although some may believe that this outdated view is disappearing with new generations, I don’t believe that to be true.
At my high school, saying you’re a feminist is almost like a plea to be bullied and labeled as a “man hater.” I couldn’t understand why all of my classmates hated to be associated with feminism, when in reality, feminism is simply the belief in equal rights and opportunities for men and women. It’s not a superiority complex shared by a group of women, but the idea that women and men shouldn’t be treated differently on the basis of gender. Still, my classmates whispered “feminist” like it was a bad word, to the point where our one female-exclusive club, the Femina Club, refused to be associated as a feminist organization.
GirlGov, a free program offered by the Women and Girls Foundation, strives to encourage more teenage women to seek a career in politics. I joined GirlGov because its feminist message stuck with me, and I wanted to meet more like-minded peers who care about social issues as much as I do.
When I traveled with GirlGov to the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg mid-June, I couldn’t imagine that I would be able to learn so much about women’s representation in government in just four short days. I listened to female political icons speak, learned about the tedious process for a bill to get passed, and even got to shadow a legislator, Representative Brian Sims, for a day.
While we certainly had a lot of achieve in just four short days, we still had time for bonding activities. On our first day there, we made our own “Will Work For…” signs. Mine read “Will Work for Equality,” while other GirlGov participants chose phrases like “Equal Pay” or “Economic Justice.” Later, we all posed for a picture (above) with our signs on the steps of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building. We also made our own multi-colored bracelets, with each colored bead corresponding to a different personality trait, such as “independent” or “confident.” By modeling our bracelets off of our personality traits, we could easily identify someone with similar qualities. One of my favorite moments during the trip was touring the Capitol Building. As I studied the intricate, gold-plated architecture and stared in awe at the detailed murals, it became apparent to me why President Theodore Roosevelt, when visiting the Capital Building, exclaimed, “It’s the handsomest building I ever saw!”
What made the trip truly amazing were the girls involved. Unlike my classmates, the girls I met through GirlGov believed in the power of women, and in just four days, I formed a special connection with all 99 of them. One of my favorite moments was when Blayre Holmes, the GirlGov Program Manager, asked everyone who was a feminist to stand on one side of the room, and all 100 of us did. We all knew what it was like to be made fun of or written off because of what we believed in, yet we’re still proud to call ourselves feminists.
Before the GirlGov trip to Harrisburg, I wasn’t that concerned about the government, and frankly, I didn’t care much about having a part in it. I always figured that if there is a big problem, someone else will get involved. But now I realize that I, as an everyday citizen, can make a difference. In June, I helped a female Indian candidate, Mina Allison, campaign for school board in Peters Township, and she won. In August, I am hosting a Girls in STEM Conference at the Upper St. Clair Public Library that will motivate and encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM, while also giving them the resources and negotiation skills to secure the same pay as their male counterparts.
I now realize that I can’t expect change to be made without playing an active role, and GirlGov has given me the right platform. I know that whatever I do, I’ll be backed up by 99 other girls, who I love like sisters. Together, we can make real, lasting change in our community, and that’s an amazing feeling.
To sign up or request more information about the Girls in STEM Conference, email GirlsInSTEMConference@gmail.
Stephanie Wang, a rising junior at Peters Township High School, is an avid writer and food enthusiast. Her writing has been featured on The Almanac’s Youth Page, and she is currently the editor of Business Funnel.