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Trailblazers Talk Women, Politics at RIC

by ELISHA K. ALDRICH, special to our blog

“I still don’t do my hair or wear makeup,” said Rep. Teresa Tanzi. Above, Tanzi shares a Memorial Day moment with her daughter, Delia. (Photo credit Tracey C. O’Neill 2013)

“I still don’t do my hair or wear makeup,” said Rep. Teresa Tanzi. Above, Tanzi shares a Memorial Day moment with her daughter. (Photo credit Tracey C. O’Neill 2013)

Providence – Due to the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate, Americans have paid particularly close attention to Congress and its members. This new attentiveness to the legislative branch has raised a valid observation – most members of Congress are white, Christian men.

On Wednesday,  Rhode Island College (RIC) took an alternate path and hosted a discussion panel featuring local women politicians as part of its Congress to Campus program.

The panel members were State Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed (D-13), General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, State Representative Teresa Tanzi (D-34), and Catherine Taylor who is the Director of the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs. They were joined by guest Ann Marie Buerkle, a former United States Representative (R-NY).

Moderated by NBC 10’s Alison Bologna, the panel facilitated discussion about women’s roles in politics, double standards, and the need for more diversity across state and federal government.

One of the first questions for the panel was whether or not gender played a role in helping them get their jobs done. While Raimondo stated that she believed traditional women’s issues, like childcare, are actually society wide issues, she owed the women who were in her position before her a lot, and wanted to help create opportunities for more women in Rhode Island.

“Throughout my career in business and now politics I’m always trying to help other women,” she said.

Tanzi agreed, stating that the need for a more diverse political field is great.

“We need as many perspectives as possible up there. We need people who are struggling different types of struggles. It doesn’t matter the party, we really need all perspectives.”

Another important point that they made for students was that nobody asked them to run for office. Their positions all came from self motivation.

“You can’t wait for someone to ask you,” said Paiva Weed. “As soon as you hear somebody’s not running and you’re interested, you have to speak up.”

Buerkle told students to remain confident in themselves, and to go with their gut.

“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do it. You have to be committed to that fire in your belly.”

There is, however, a huge double standard against women, as Weed displayed with her anecdote about President Bill Clinton.

“Women are judged much more quickly. Bill Clinton could cry and people thought that was great. I will tell you this – if you are a woman in politics, do not ever let anyone see you cry. You need to be tough. Bill Clinton could cry and people thought that was moving, but they won’t if you’re a woman.”

Even though these women feel the need to be tough, they believe being genuine is the most important part of politics.

“I wear heels now so I can look men in the eye, but that’s it. I still don’t do my hair or wear makeup, and I put my emotions out there. Just do what you feel comfortable doing,” was Tanzi’s final remark.

Raimondo, a likely gubernatorial candidate, later spoke of the need to encourage the younger generation to pursue public service.

“It was an honor to be selected to speak among such accomplished women leaders at the RIC Congress to Campus event,” said Raimondo. “It’s important for public servants to share their experiences with the younger generation and overall campus community in order to enhance the dialogue and encourage more women to run for office in the future.”

The Congress to Campus event was a two-day forum held as part of Rhode Island College’s American Democracy Project.

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