The Female Experience: Women Still Fighting For Equality In America’s Political Systems

Women are still a minority. In 2018, 107 women — 78 Democrats, 29 Republicans — held seats in the United States House and Senate, comprising only about 20 percent of the 535 members.

About half the American workforce is women, among lawyers they make up 38 percent, one female to every three males, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Jacquelyn L. Ford grew up in south Oklahoma City with a father that encouraged her to value academics and a mother that taught her to never be economically dependent upon anyone.

”Is it harder to be a woman in this business? It’s pretty damned hard to be a woman in this business who does what I choose to do,’’ Ford said. ’’I’ve had judges, this month, telling me how hot I am while I’m giving legal arguments. Asking me to please not step out of their line of sight, because I’m the most attractive thing they’ve seen in this courtroom in weeks.”

Ford said in the trial room she is surrounded by men. “And every man is looking at me, I can feel it,” she said.

Yet no matter the level of harassment she received, not a single male had the guts to tell the judge his actions were inappropriate.

“Instead, they all laughed, and expected me to laugh.” Ford said she would step back and take three deep breaths before smiling and forcing herself to thank the judge for his ‘compliment’.

Ford has represented over 3,000 people as a public defender, and received the Clarence Darrow Award for excellence in trial advocacy.

Ford said to stand up to the judge in the middle of a trial would be inconsiderate.  ‘’Because to cut off his head in that moment would’ve been a disservice to my client, and would’ve been so unbelievably shocking to what happened that we would have not been able to conclude business. As I’m sitting here right now I’m mad at myself for not making a claim against this judge,” she said.

Ford is now a criminal defense attorney and founded the Jacqui Ford Law Firm in 2011. As a law student, she worked defending people accused of crimes at the University of Oklahoma Legal Clinic.

Ford pursued a bachelor of arts degree in business administration at Oklahoma State University, taking night classes while working full-time in a sales position. On a cold night close to Christmas, she and a friend were joking about going to law school, and the thought stayed with her.

‘’That night we finished class, and I drove to a Borders. I had seven dollars to my name, I went in, spent five of it on an expensive-ass coffee, and sat down with an LSAT (Law School Admission Test) study book on the floor,’’ Ford said. She sat on the floor that night, drinking coffee and decided she was going to take the LSAT–which was only three weeks away. 

There has been a steady growth in the amount of women going into the legal field.The United States Census Bureau report shows “At mid-career, when earnings peak, the top 10 percent of female lawyers earn more than $300,000 a year, while the top 10 percent of male lawyers earn more than $500,000.’’

Emily Stacey, who earned a PhD, is a world traveler, author, and a political science professor at Oklahoma City Community College. She has excessive knowledge on the subject of contemporary issues and social movements both national and international, the emergence of technology in politics, and the vast topic of freedom of speech.

Stacey believes the positions in politics and power being predominantly occupied by white males are largely the consequences of the history of development.

“There has really not been a time in modern history where politics of our nation and nations around the world were not dominated by white men,” Stacey said. “The result of which has been systemic poverty, the entrenchment of inequalities, and propping up of large corporations.”

She did say the tide is changing a little in the U.S. “I am hopeful about the largest population of women being elected to the House of Representatives, but it is 2018, this was long overdue.”

Stacey said the reason Oklahoma is at the bottom of the list, when it comes to female representatives, is largely to do with voter turnout.

“It is overwhelmingly white and older folks that religiously vote. That is going to make a vast difference on who gets elected and on what policy agenda,” she said. “In terms of lack of females, part of it is gender stereotypes regarding what roles females can feasibly play in modern society.”

Vox Magazine said that women in congress pass twice as many bills as their male counterparts during one session of congress. Researchers have found that women bring different backgrounds into congress. They overcome different obstacles, and often more of them, in order to succeed. This shapes how women govern in the office and what they choose to bring focus on. 

Lydia King is currently a student at Oklahoma City Community College, pursuing a degree in political science and pre-law.

“Women are taught from a young age to avoid causing others inconvenience at all costs. Don’t say no, don’t disagree, don’t speak up for yourself, don’t set boundaries,” King said. “Unlearning these behaviors is the best thing someone can do when working in a male-dominated field.”

King said during her time as a student, working in her classes is one thing she doesn’t have to worry about. It is outside the classroom where she receives criticism from people who think her efforts in achieving a degree in politics isn’t worthwhile.

“I have been lucky enough to have professors who show no bias for or against either gender, and my education has not suffered in any way as a result of my gender.” King said. “The only way in which my experience as a student has differed from my male classmates has been in in-class discussions where it sometimes becomes apparent that we view the world from two very different lenses, and have been influenced by wildly different experiences.”

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), women today are still left absent when it comes to national and local decision making. Women struggle to find a voice in peacebuilding transitions and are often excluded from political processes.

From discrimination and violence to a lack of support and resources, women face countless challenges to participation in the civic and political life of their countries.” USAID believes the key to improvement lies in knowledge. The organization provides encouragement and support for female empowerment through building exercises, training opportunities, and leadership seminars.

“Adopting behaviors that require a person to make a conscious choice to oppress someone can prevent an issue from occurring in the first place. So say no, set boundaries, and stand up for yourself without apologizing for it because no one’s convenience is worth your personal freedom,” King said.

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