The following is an article I penned upon the swearing in of the 113th Congress. And although it wasn’t picked up by the few places I sent it to, I thought my blog was as good of an outlet as any!
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I rang in the 2012 election with 500 classmates at Bryn Mawr College, a predominantly liberal women’s college. Thomas Great Hall, where we crowded around a projection screen, erupted in applause as CNN called the election for President Obama. But more importantly, it got equally rowdy when yet another woman scored a seat in Congress.
This year, 20 female Senators will be inducted into the 113th Congress. And although the U.S. ranks a pitiful 78th worldwide in its number of women in government, that is still three more than last year, and worthy of celebration.
Ever since the controversial election of 2000, when my Democratic parents threw a “Partisan Pot Luck Dinner” on election night in my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I have dreamed of a career in politics. I was eight years old and this was the first time I understood how passionate people could be about politics. And in later years, like after Hurricane Katrina, how effective or ineffective government leaders on both sides of the aisle could be.
While I have spent the past decade dreaming of running for public office, and inspired by our female Senator, Mary Landrieu, who was a huge help to our state in the Katrina aftermath, I am painfully aware that politics remains a male dominated field. And growing up, I received little encouragement for my political aspirations, including the one to be President one day.
In high school, I was subjected to the endless sexist joke, Why are women’s feet so small? So they can stand closer to the stove, and taken far less seriously than my similarly politically savvy male friends, a female senator and a female governor, notwithstanding.
This is one of the main reasons I chose to attend Bryn Mawr College. At Bryn Mawr, many of my friends have shared unsettling experiences like mine. One friend was elected “most likely to be President” at her high school in Alabama, but the school changed her superlative because it was not realistic for a woman. My parents, an artist and a writer, have never been particularly opinionated about my future career; with the exception that my mother prays it’s not in politics.
In spite of this, I am still pursuing this dream, taking the only path I know. A junior in college, I am pursuing bachelors in sociology and until recently, I hoped to pursue a master of public policy, eventually working in an administration of some sort. And although nearly all of my friends would say that I have never lost sight of the fact that I’d like to one-day hold office, in truth, during these past few years, I was beginning to lose confidence in myself.
Recently, I was looking into summer internships and my focus was on what will get me into the best graduate school, soonest? I figured graduate school was the path to my dream, and my family and friends shared this mindset. One internship seemed more aligned with the program at Georgetown while another might help with Penn’s.
And then I talked to my professors. My major adviser said, “Hannah, these are all amazing opportunities, and you really can’t go wrong, but why are you looking at these internships with graduate school in mind?” Moreover, he wanted to know why I was pursuing a masters degree in public policy. “You want to be an elected official, not work for one,” he said.
When I went to visit another of my favorite professors, he echoed my major adviser’s sentiment. Don’t work for graduate school; go work in D.C. for a few years after graduation, garner social capital, and work to find a path that will lead you to a successful run.
I left their offices feeling scared and completely uncertain; a feeling most college juniors have, but one that I thought I had escaped. And while I left having no foreseeable plan, I realized that for the first time in my life, my aspirations had been taken seriously.
I look to those 20 elected Senators and wonder what inspired their aspirations, especially at times when they had far fewer role models than I. Had they been fortunate enough to have mentors that took them completely seriously, even when their loving parents hadn’t?
I hope by the time I run for office, women will constitute half of the government, as we do the population. But let’s be real, we still have a long way to go. And as much as I joke that I would like to be the first President who happens to be a woman, in truth, I seriously hope someone beats me to it (HILARY 2016).
I am still unsure of what I will ultimately do after graduation, but as for my future, one thing remains certain: I plan to run for office.