Panel discusses Texas women in politics

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Jan Soifer, Chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party, talks about the obstacles she faced during her campaign. The panel discussion, hosted by University Democrats, addressed the future of women in politics.

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

University Democrats hosted a panel Wednesday where women in Texas government addressed the challenges they faced as a result of their gender, including feeling isolated and having a harder time raising adequate funds. 

Former state representative Sherri Greenberg, interim director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the LBJ School, said running for office as a woman set her apart from the rest of the field. 

“My profile was very different than people who were running at the time,” Greenberg said. “I was 29, 30 years old. I was working. I had a child.”

Greenberg said the lack of women occupying public office also meant she did not always have role models to identify with.

“For me, there weren’t many people running or elected that truly looked like me,” she said. “I don’t think I had as many role models as you do today.”

Greenberg said historically, women were less able to fundraise on a level equal with their male counterparts, in part because women are taught not to be demanding. 

“For some women it was because they couldn’t ask,” Greenberg said. “Other women were not accustomed to giving.”

Jan Soifer, chairwoman of the Travis County Democratic Party, said she was also affected by the social norms surrounding self-promotion. Even though Soifer was used to working in a male-dominated field, she said she still struggled to break free of gender expectations.

“I was used to being one of the only [woman lawyers], but I also had a hard time being out there, selling myself,” Soifer said. “That was something we were socialized not to do.”

Blake Medley, government senior and president of University Democrats, said his organization was motivated to host the panel because the role of women in politics has become a hot topic this semester.

“We knew going into this semester we wanted to have some sort of event focused on women and women in politics because it is a big issue,” Medley said. “It was certainly a big issue during the end of the legislature.”

Medley said that though a “war on women” has become a political buzzword, it does occasionally reflect reality. 

Medley said now is the optimal time for students to become engaged in politics because of their exposure to different issues as college students.

“A lot of people our age, especially, have a more open mindset,” Medley said. “When there’s an injustice and they know about it, they’re usually against it.”