This windy Wednesday, distinguished Athena Fellow and Fox News commentator Jehmu Greene came to Barnard to talk about the status of women in politics. She recounted her journey from high school voting advocate to progressive voice on Fox and her recent run for Democratic National Committee chair to Erin Vilardi, the founder of Vote, Run, Lead, a platform training and empowering women to run for office.
On Fox, Greene is the voice of the left, opposing the conservatives who she admits are “fabulous communicators.” She acknowledged some shortcomings of the Democratic Party’s current communication abilities, particularly their intense focus on hard facts rather than emotions. According to Greene, they lack the passion her colleagues on Fox possess. Bill Clinton described her role as such a visible member of the Democratic Party to counter this perception, to convey the “sparkle, tone, and smile” of the party’s platform. Rather than debate technicalities with the steadfastly conservative hosts and guests, her job is to appeal to the moderates watching in the hopes of swaying them to her side. The most effective way of doing this, she frequently mentioned, is by knowing your audience.
Greene also discussed the lack of female representation in government with clear eyes, pointing to the disparity in seats going to women–a low 20%–and the importance of increasing this number. She described some of the barriers preventing this, including the intensity with which the male-dominated field silences allegations of sexual assault. Greene movingly described her own experience with sexual violence perpetrated by a higher up within her own party and how her colleagues and friends told her that she would never be able to work in the political sphere again if she came forward. She said that her bid for the DNC chair was a response to the feelings of disappointment in her party for lack of support for women. Especially with recent reveals of the horrors of powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, and recently Knight Landesman, the harmful power dynamics and violence sometimes present in male-dominated fields were at the forefront of most minds in the audience, making Greene’s emphasis on the need to increase female representation in all fields–including politics–even more impactful.
In response to a question about the mistakes that brought her to this point in her career, Greene reiterated the importance of failure in helping everyone, especially women, grow. Vilardi stated that women are less likely to run again after a loss, when in fact, it’s a common strategy to run once and lose in order to set the stage for a second campaign down the line. Greene lamented that societal prejudices create the impression that women have fewer opportunities to fail, both professionally and personally, despite the fact that failure is an invaluable learning opportunity.
Greene concluded the evening touching on another campus hot topic, free speech. Her initial foray into the world of politics was actually driven by an infringement on free speech, and she restated the importance of listening to everyone’s opinion. Though she did not directly mention Tommy Robinson’s talk here or the protests staged in response, her emphasis on the necessity of allowing speech seemed targeted at students. Greene said that the left’s current response to a different opinion is to shut down the other’s ability to speak, creating the impression that the left isn’t able to hold a cohesive conversation with another other side. She believes that each person is responsible for providing the most rational counterargument to an opposing opinion and encouraging conversation, just as she does on Fox.
I found the talk very empowering and thought-provoking. This talk was the last of five yearly Power Talks, and the next one won’t be until 2018. In February, there is a film festival featuring women in leadership positions.
Also, don’t forget to register to vote! Your vote has a bigger impact at local levels, and those elections are incredibly important to changing the overall landscape of the country’s political governance.