WASHINGTON – Influential women in government – from senators and mayors to a governor and city councilor – along with actors, feminist leaders and campaign operatives (including some men) were fired up here Tuesday over the future of women – and yes, some were even angry.
Panelists, interacting with each other and the audience, spread the message that women should be raising their voices and showing passion rather than quieting down for fear of appearing enraged. “Because if you’re angry, that should be okay,” said Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley, who made history when she became the first woman of color to hold the position. “It’s okay to be angry, because I am angry about injustice,” she said to fervent applause.
On equal pay still being a question in 2015, Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan asked, “What the heck is that about?!” On women working for U.S. government not given paid maternity leave, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire called it “unacceptable.”
There was forceful energy and attitude throughout from the dozens of speakers at pro-choice super PAC Emily’s List’s 30th anniversary conference – and sass from the audience, too. Loud cheers echoed for equal pay and paid leave for women, and boos erupted at the sound of certain Republicans’ names (ahem, Scott Brown, who failed to unseat Shaheen in the 2014 midterm elections) and Washington gridlock.
The mention of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke later Tuesday evening, led to fireworks of applause. The possibility of a female president in 2016 is the cherry on top (and the ice cream, hot fudge, and even the bowl, for that matter) for this group. But as for 2015, senators and other women in leadership who spoke at the conference laid out their priorities for women.
To name a few: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said the Senate will be focusing on justice for victims of sexual assault on campus – her namesake cause in recent years – and paid leave for women. “We are the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have paid leave,” she said, adding that without change, we continue to live in a so-called “Mad Men” era. It’s these “simple things” she said that are fundamental to our country’s growth.
Sen. Stabenow announced the impending launch of the “Half a Cup” campaign, which will encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. Massachusetts AG Maura Healey, the first openly gay AG in history, said she will continue to pioneer LGBT rights. This Friday, a brief she worked on supporting marriage equality across the country will be sent to the Supreme Court ahead of its April landmark ruling which will decide the fate of marriage equality in America.
Women also came together to share stories of veteran Sen. Barabara Mikulski, the 78-year-old pioneer for women rights who announced on Monday she would not be seeking another term in 2016. DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz called Mikulski a “remarkable force” and Sen. Patty Murray said she “championed” women. “When you can get a mammogram without copay, thank Barbara Mikulski,” Sen. Stabenow said, who deemed her “firece.”
America Ferrera of “Ugly Betty” fame used her stardom to encourage young women – particularly minorities – to get involved and vote. Ferrera recalled hearing a group of Latina girls saying they weren’t going to vote because it doesn’t matter since nothing every changes and it caused her to “burst into tears.”
Another actor, Anna Gunn of “Breaking Bad,” opened up about the sexism and online abuse she has faced as a women in Hollywood. On a panel called “Feminism: Movement and the Media,” Gunn talked of how scary the Internet can be for women. “I would type in my name and it would be Anna Gunn fat, Anna Gunn pregnant …”
But despite the haters, all of the women at the conference said the desire to make a difference cuts right through the discouragement. “The haters will still hate, especially if you are a strong woman. But you have to keep your eyes on the prize,” said Wasserman-Schultz. “For the next few election cycles, I look forward to kicking ass and taking names,” she said.