Former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) told a mostly female audience gathered at the Mount Vernon campus’ Post Hall Thursday that women must take a proactive role in politics.
Schroeder spoke about her years in the U.S. House of Representatives, urging women to use their power in politics. She also signed copies of her recent book, 24 Years of House Work and the Place is Still a Mess.
GW’s Women in Power program and the Academic Program Leadership Advisory Group at Mount Vernon sponsored the event to honor women’s leadership.
“It may come as a real shock to you, but women are not in power yet,” Schroeder said. “As you know, the White House is the ultimate tree house with a `no girls allowed’ sign written on it.
“What depresses me today is that here we are at the end of the century, and Barbie is still one of the preeminent role models. TV isn’t showing sitcoms where women are smart anymore,” she said. “I worry what has happened if we don’t have anymore grounding than this.”
Schroeder said she is troubled that women in politics are blamed for the recent Clinton scandal.
“I find it amazing that in this political year (women) are being blamed for everything that’s wrong. I hope we have some women left when this year is over,” she said. “The media has been hammering these women as if they gave a permission slip to the president telling him to slip on down and have a good time.”
Schroeder urged students in the audience to get involved in politics.
“There’s a lot for you to do,” she said. “The great thing for this generation is that you have more education and are better prepared than any other generation of young women.”
Schroeder also discussed the media’s negative focus in stories about the nation’s political system.
“The media has done everything they can to scare young women out of politics – don’t be scared,” Schroeder said. “I had so much fun, it was a hoot. My kids loved it. They had a great time participating in the process.”
Schroeder said media reports often insinuate that women should not get involved in politics because their personal lives cannot withstand the demands of the job.
“This is not necessarily true. I was (in Congress) 24 years and still have the same husband, my kids are fine and I haven’t been indicted,” she said. “I have a brain and a uterus and they both work.”
Besides urging young women to get involved in politics, Schroeder said she has a dream for how women can truly use their power: The United States has a consumer-oriented society and women, who control the purchasing power, need to harnass that situation to change corporations and businesses.
Schroeder said female economists should create a Web site that lists corporations where women serve on the board or in higher management positions, where positive family and work policies are in effect, and where philanthropy is equally practiced.
Schroeder said she suggested the idea to Wall Street executives while she was teaching at Princeton University.
“As I talked about my idea for how women could gain power, their eyes just got wider. And some man in the front row jumped up and said `this woman must be stopped.’ “
Schroeder also discussed the glass ceiling that still prevents some women from advancing in the business world.
“If you took all the women in leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies, they could caucus in a damn phone booth.”
Schroeder said a big part of the problem is the lack of support in the work force for families with children.
“When people look back on this society, they’re going to think we’re a society that hated our kids and worshipped our cars . if you tell the boss your car broke down you don’t get in trouble, but if you tell them your family broke down then it looks like you’re not a professional,” she said.
Schroeder said her generation has let down the younger generation by conveying a negative outlook.
“There’s a lack of mentoring going on. There’s a cynicism and a hand-wringing that is so ridiculous,” Schroeder said. “We’ve never had so much ability, education and possibility. The thing is to grab the power and go with it.”