In early January, new State Representative Wendy Hausman stood at the top of the stairs at the Legislature’s Inaugural Ball at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City along with her husband and children, waiting for her name to be announced to the crowd below.
But as she handed the cue card bearing her name to the announcer, he shook her husband’s hand instead, and said, ‘Congratulations, Mr. Representative.’
The crowd gathered in the Millennium Student Center Century Room A at the University of Missouri–St. Louis last week immediately let out a collective groan as Hausman recounted the story during a panel conversation on Women in Politics.
“That was a shocking moment and I knew every single day I’m gonna have to fight to be respected and say, ‘I am here,’” Hausman said. “It was a big moment that maybe I needed to know because, you know, it’s not going to be easy. So that’s what I think I do on a daily basis: just prove I deserve to be here. Every day.”
For the panel, Hausman was joined by former State Representative Jean Evans, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and State Representative Raychel Proudie. The event was co-hosted by UMSL’s Political Science Academy and Gender Studies Department as well as the Associated Students of the University of Missouri in honor of Women’s History Month.
Anita Manion, an assistant professor of political science at UMSL and the faculty advisor for the Political Science Academy, said the group was excited to bring the event back this year after it fell through the cracks during the height of the pandemic, adding that the organizers aimed to feature a diverse panel in terms of political ideology, age, race and experience.
Throughout the hour, the panelists shared what motivated them to run for office, challenges they have faced in their careers, their biggest legislative successes, their current priorities and advice for young people interested in politics. Despite their differing political affiliations, they found common ground when discussing the challenges they’ve faced as women in politics.
After Hausman shared her story from the State Capitol, Jones – the first Black female mayor in the City of St. Louis and the first Black woman in Missouri history to hold the position of Assistant Minority Floor Leader – was quick to jump in with a similar experience from her time in the House of Representatives.
“That exact same thing happened to me,” she said. “My first day walking into the basement of the House, I had my son on my hip – he was maybe 13 months at the time – and I’m getting into that basement elevator, so you know exactly where I am. And this man looks at me and says, ‘Oh, hello. Is your husband being sworn in today?’”
Evans, an UMSL graduate who now works as a contract lobbyist, said she has enjoyed working hand in hand with people who have very different political beliefs and backgrounds in order to move forward legislation that’s important to women across the state, such as a bill to raise the marriage age in Missouri.
“When you find something that’s important, you figure out a way to work together,” she said. “We all are going to have different things that we disagree on because we’re on different sides of the aisle just because we’re different people. But when you’re there – and this is a great thing for life – if you can find something that you like about somebody else, and that you agree on, and figure out a way to work on that together, it’s really important and the things that you disagree on kind of fade away. And I would say we all want the same things, we want clean water, great neighborhoods, safe streets, we often disagree about how to get there. Mayor Jones talked about public safety and how important it is. There’s no one who disagrees about that. After the rest is just details. So if you start with that in mind and say, ‘Okay, we agree on this, let’s figure out a way to get there together.’”
Jones and Proudie both spoke about their experiences as Black women in politics, noting that there are still many glass ceilings to break in the region. Proudie – who represents Ferguson, Missouri – urged the audience to also think about the role that location plays in bias and discrimination.
“I reside at the intersection of race and gender and location,” she said. “When I first got elected, not only was it the, ‘You’re a woman’ and ‘You’re Black,’ but at the time, it was ‘Oh, you’re also from Ferguson.’ Even dealing with some state departments and how they treat my constituents are contingent upon race and sex and location, location particularly. Getting them to talk to my constituents with the same level of decency and respect as they talk to me is a real thing. You know, it’s one thing to be a representative and they put the voice on when you talk to them, but there’s been times I’ve been sitting next to my constituents when they heard Normandy, when they heard Kinloch, when they heard Ferguson, that changed the approach in the way that they started to talk to them. When it comes to politics, when you are a woman, a woman of color, and you come from an area that, like Ferguson, has a bit of a reputation but you go in there and you show them I’m from Castle Point, I grew up in Ferguson, and was able to amass this with the right combination of opportunities, that’s what we go down there and we ask for.”
In addition to members of the UMSL community, several students and Advanced Credit Program instructors in Political Science and Gender Studies from Affton High School and St. Pius X High School attended the event. The event wrapped up with a Q&A in which several members of the audience discussed ways to get involved in local politics with the panelists.
“We hope that attendees leave feeling inspired and empowered to be more civically engaged in ways such as getting out to vote, contacting their elected officials, staying informed and maybe even running for office,” Manion says. “We also hope that they gain insight to some of the challenges that women, particularly women of color, face and how these women have overcome challenges to try to improve their communities.”