Making a Change for Women in Politics –
Making a change for women in politics was a common theme throughout the evening at a panel held Wednesday night at the Austin History Center with two distinguished female politicians as the guests of honor.
The panel was held in conjunction with the “Backwards in High Heels: Getting Women Elected, 1842-1990” exhibit that is going on at the Austin History Center that runs until Oct. 5.
Native Austinite and first female mayor of Austin Carole Keeton spoke on the panel as well as the first ever African American to represent Travis County in the Texas House of Representatives, Wilhelmina Delco. Both shared their personal influences and challenges faced while serving as women in public office. These former politicians shared encouragement to young women who may seek political office in the future.
“My Dad taught me two things growing up,” Keeton said. “One, it is not the dollars you make but the difference you make that matters in life,’ and two, ‘If you don’t have somebody mad at you, then you probably haven’t done anything.’”
A desire to make the world better is what fueled these women throughout their time in public service. When speaking of getting their feet in the door of a male dominated political world, both talked about pressure.
“Women get more pressures than men do,” Delco said. “We get parental pressures, or older people telling you how to run your life. We get peer pressure. Partner pressure from your spouse, as well as progeny pressure, from the kids. One thing women have to do is deal with the pressures that are inherited to you as a woman.”
Throughout their time in office both women strived toward similar goals. They emphasized the desegregation and integration of public schools, fiscal improvements, and overall better education. When asked about their proudest ventures during their careers both Keeton and Delco had synonymous answers.
“Education, education, education,” Keeton said.
If it wasn’t Keeton going to the school board to get laminating funds, it was Delco going to get more fundraising money for her children’s elementary school.
Their eagerness for any and all children to attend not only kindergarten through senior year of high school, but rather kindergarten through college or ‘K-14’ as Keeton put it, was inspiring.
Keeton and Delco worked diligently so that people like Kallen Dimitroff, a junior at The University of Texas, and Horacio Villarreal, a recent graduate of The University of Texas, could not only attend college, but also thrive. Dimitroff is the current Liberal Arts Representative in the UT student government, while Villarreal just passed on the reins as the student body president of UT to Kori Rady this last spring.
“The gender issue is definitely still there,” Keeton said.
Dimitroff said she constantly faces issues of being a woman in political environment.
“When you are a girl or woman in any type of political sphere it is difficult for people to understand the difference between assertiveness and intensity rather than objectivity and cleverness,” Dimitroff said.
Villarreal, who would like to continue in the political arena and do so “in the largest capacity that [he] can handle at the given time,” sheds a different light on the subject.
“I think women in politics are incredibly strong,” Villarreal said. “They know how to message to their own better than any men are able to. Due to the fact that they are the minority when it comes to the general population of politicians, it is in my opinion that they tend to be some of the strongest. [Women] understand that they are amongst many men and need to stand out from the pack to gain respect and accomplish what they set out to do.”
Although Dimitroff and Villarreal aren’t on the main stage of politics quite yet, they are the future of this country and understand the difficulty of women in politics as Keeton and Delco addressed.
Keeton urged young women to “speak up and speak out; roll up your sleeves and do what you think is right.”
Delco advised listeners to never take no as an answer.