State legislators weigh in on what it’s like to be a woman in politics

  • State Rep. Ivy Vann (D) says it’s difficult to be a woman in the state legislature, especially this term with the rise of the alt-right.   File photo

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/18/2017 9:32:12 AM

The number of women in national and state politics is growing, yet even still the share remains disproportionately low.

Women make up about 19 percent of the national legislature and about 27 percent of the state legislature in New Hampshire.

State Rep. Ivy Vann (D) said the committee she is on has about 20 members, five of which are women.

“That’s pretty typical of the legislature as a whole, about 25 to 30 percent,” Vann said about the number of women in the House of Representatives.

And that comes with challenges, she said.

“I mean there’s always your garden variety of misogyny like being talked over or ignored,” Vann said. “I’m old now so I say, ‘Stop it, I’m not done.’ But people don’t like that, and it uses up a lot of energy to continue doing that.”

This term, she said, it’s been worse. 

“The alt-right had definitely empowered a more dismissive attitude towards women,” Vann said.

But other women in the legislature say it’s not that big of an issue.

State Rep. Carol Roberts (D) said there is no doubt there are fewer women than men in the legislature, but it hasn’t made much of a difference in her experience. She said she doesn’t ever feel reluctant to speak up, but that may be because the work she championing is so cut-and-dried.

State Sen. Ruth Ward (R) says she doesn’t notice the gender differences at all.

“It’s a very cordial group,” Ward said. “They’re very professional and I think that from my perspective, the women who are there are strong women, they know what they’re doing. As far as I’m concerned, the men in there, are just colleagues.”

Vann said there is a tendency for women on the right to say that there is no issue.

“I think there is a tendency for women who are politically to the far right to assert that there is no problem with gender biases, but I don’t think they’re acknowledging it because a lot of it comes from the right. Not all of it, but a lot,” Vann said.

Issues regarding gender have been pushed into the spotlight twice this year in state politics; the first after State Rep. Robert Fisher, a Republican, resigned after it was revealed that he was the creator and chief moderator of a misogynistic online forum called The Red Pill, and backlash after State Rep. Sherry Frost, a Democrat, posted a comment on Twitter that said men who tell her to calm down make her homicidal.

Certain lawmakers tried connecting Frost’s comments to Fisher’s in a bid to get her to step away from her duties. 

Vann said the backlash Frost received has made her think twice about what she posts on social media.

And that kind of wariness about what you can and can’t say may be keeping women away from politics, she said.

“I’m not sure women want to open themselves up to that kind of ridicule,” Vann said.

She said a number of things need to change if there’s going to be more representation from women in the future.

Vann said there needs to be a greater emphasis on promoting women at a local level. She said the measly $200 stipend for a two-year term is not enough to promote most people, especially women to participate in politics either.

A study published this year by Dartmouth College found volunteer-based state legislatures may perpetuate gender inequality in political representation. It says that work-family balance appeared to disproportionately affect female legislators when compared to their male colleagues because women often assume more family roles in the household, which competes with their free time.

In comparison, legislators in California earn $104,118 per year.

“You need to be rich or retired to be able to participate,” Vann said. “It’s very hard to have a job and women are typically the primary caregivers of their children or grandchildren, which makes it even more difficult.”

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or


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