Interviewed by POLITICO’s Andrea Drusch
There’s a separate set of standards and expectations for female politicians. People look at women’s’ clothes, they look at their hair, they look at how they stand, those type of things that are not supposed to be reflective of whether or not they can do the job they’ve been elected or appointed to do.
When I first ran for office, for instance, I went through a screening committee and I was the only one of the candidates asked if I had a college degree, which I did have, but when I got on the board of freeholders where I was the only one, I discovered there was only one other man on the board that had a college degree. And yet it clearly was somehow important that I’d said yes.
When I got in office, one of the things that happened early on was there was a meeting scheduled that conflicted with an event that our daughter had at school and I said “I can’t make it, I’m going to go to this event.” And you could see the normal grumbling of the “oh what’d you expect, it’s a woman” kind of thing. But I did it, and came back and caught up on that issue as fast as they did from the meeting, and after that they kind of looked at each other and said, well it wasn’t the end of the world, obviously you can do this, so I saw the men starting to take a little time to go to watch their children or grandchildren perform in something.
Once somebody on the board had done it and shown that you didn’t lose any time and you were still able to make the decisions necessary in the appropriate time frame, they started to take advantage of it.
During the campaign, one of the things my husband and I have always done is take a week in the summer with our kids and going someplace none of us had been before. I did that in August of the first gubernatorial election, and there were op-eds written about how I didn’t have the fire in my belly to become governor. I had a bruising primary in June, campaigned all of July and August while nobody is paying attention, I go away for a week with my family and they were all over me. I said “this is ridiculous.” The titles have changed in my life, the family won’t. It’s the kind of scrutiny I’m not sure a man would have gotten.
We need to get more women out there so that other women can see that this is an important role for women to play, because today’s problems are so diverse and so complex that there’s no one set of ideas that has all the answers, white males do not have all the answers. Women do bring a different set of life experiences, just as minorities do. There’s a different way of problem solving and approaching issues and if we’re going to come up with solutions that are going to stand the test of time and really solve some of these issues, you need to have a diversity of decision makers at the table. So women have to get comfortable with the idea of supporting other women. We’re getting better at it, but unfortunately we still have a ways to go.
If you’re not going to change your sex, you can’t worry about what’s coming at you because you’re a woman. One of the first jobs I was given as a freeholder was to oversee the construction of a county courthouse. They hadn’t been able to agree on a site. The previous board had hired a team of architects, but they didn’t have a site. We had an assignment judge who was threatening to sue if we kept certain things, it was very contentious. The first couple of meetings that I had with the union guys, you could see the skepticism in their face. I mean here was this 30-something woman going to tell them what to do. And after they figured out, first of all, that I respected what they had to say, but I had parameters and things that they were going to have to meet.
It’s really a question of not feeding the beast. There are certain things that we do that reinforce the image. They said right after I was elected that it must have been my husband who was giving me all the insight on all the policy, so John just never came to Trenton.