Across the country, women knit together the fabric of our communities. As residents, business entrepreneur and, of course, as local officials, women lead by action and example. At the National League of Cities, we’re proud of the women who have answered the call of service and taken office. NLC celebrates them this month by sharing their voices and stories on our website, blog and social media channels.
This is a guest post by Mayor Pro Tem Tameika Isaac Devine of Columbia, South Carolina.
“A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing,” the poet Maya Angelou once wrote. “She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.”
Walking out of the door as a woman has always had its own challenges. To be a woman at times means to question ones’ appearance, to decide whether it sends the “right message”.
It is feeling conflicted because one’s own inner strength may go against society’s narratives about women. It can mean frequently having individuals doubt your career aspirations due to personal reasons, such as one’s family life or lack thereof. And the list continues.
But with that, being a woman also means being fearless! Stepping into society knowing that definitions of who you should be are framed from a patriarchal view point can be daunting, but women leave their houses and live full lives despite it. Every day, women remind themselves and each other of their strength and choose to make their own path.
That choice to face the obstacles and brave the road ahead is powerful.
As Shirley Chisolm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, once said, “The emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of females begins when the doctor says, ‘It’s a girl.” The goals and aspirations that we have for ourselves do not come without sacrifice, but that sacrifice should not solely be placed on the shoulders of women.
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We all bear the obligation to make the various spaces that we occupy better and more meaningful. And when it seems that there isn’t a space or room for our voice we should make one!
When our voices are silenced by lack of representation, it leaves room for others to speak in our place. For too long our voices have been left out of discussions affecting our daily lives — and left in the hands of individuals who do not operate from a true place of understanding.
As the first African American female elected to the Columbia City Council, and the first African American to be elected at large, I can state that we can achieve the seemingly impossible feat of being elected to office. Women are capable of serving at all levels of government. Women have begun boldly standing in their power and filling voids like never.
According to the Center for Women and Politics, women represent 22 percent of the Senate and 19 percent of the House of Representatives, 23 percent within our State Senate and 26 in our state House — and lastly, only 21 percent of mayors in U.S. cities are female.
While these numbers are at an all-time high, a huge void remains. In Kelly Dittmar’s, research Candidates Matter: Gender Differences in Election 2016, findings revealed that there is no disparity in which candidates win rates, but “the real gender disparities exist in the proportions of women and men running at each phase of the electoral process.”
Hearing this, I can only think of whether we are forgetting or questioning the power that we have as women. The power that we wield every day when we face the obstacles of what it means to be a woman in America. The power that we wield as we learn how the various intersections that exist within our womanhood affects our daily life and adds to our greatness.
This blog is one where I take my power as an elected official to thank the women that came before me, acknowledge those that are currently serving, and remind women and girls that they are powerful and capable. Your voice is not only wanted, but needed — at all levels of government — to make true change.
Want more of this kind of content? Join the Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) group to learn more about their work and priorities.
About the author: Tameika Isaac Devine is a wife, mother, attorney, entrepreneur and an at-large member of the Columbia, South Carolina, city council.