“One? I have to pick just one?” she laughed.
I was chatting with Catherine Weatbrook, who’s running for Seattle City Council district 6 (Ballard/Fremont/Greenlake), and had just asked her to tell me about one gender equality issue she would work on if she were elected.
It’s hard to choose just one issue, because when it comes to Seattle, Weatbrook argues, “We are so not progressive enough. We talk a big game, but we don’t deliver.”
Believing that we've reached gender equality is a misconception that Seattle often falls into--and it can be a dangerous one. If you don’t think you have a problem, then how can you prioritize solving it? The responsibility for identifying issues like gender equality lands especially with those in power, which is one reason why it's critical to have diverse leadership. And how we choose those leaders is about to change for the better.
Usually, running for public office like City Council means you need a few things that not everyone has access to: Money, time, and a very supportive family to help take care of things at home while you’re campaigning around the entire city. But this year, for the first time, Seattle is voting by district. This makes campaigning more manageable, at the neighborhood level, where you can knock on doors to get votes, and keep your day job while you’re running. And in order to attract diverse candidates, including women, that matters a lot.
This is important for gender equality in another way as well: In our culture, women generally are raised to be less self-confident than men, and we tend to require women to prove themselves professionally, while we assume men are competent. Therefore, in politics, women have to be asked more to run for office. Weatbrook thinks that voting by district will help in this regard, “Because women generally are the ones more connected to community…districts are a more natural entry point into politics for women. […] Hopefully this will break some barriers.”
Consequently, there is a diverse group of people running this year, and possibly the most women who have ever run.
So, back to the first question. What one issue would Weatbrook focus on? First of all, the Gender Pay Equity Committee. Because, she argues, when women earn less than men, that is not only a problem at the individual level, but “That is also a problem for affordable childcare. That is a problem for housing. That is a problem for education. That is a problem for opportunities for those women’s children.” And that is no small thing, because Seattle, you may be surprised to hear, is one of the worst cities in the nation for the gender pay gap.
Second, she’d “like to see us as a city council hold companies accountable for statements like the Microsoft CEO made. Seattle uses Microsoft Office products. There are other options.” We could do the same for other vendors, such as construction companies and contractors. The city, she argues, should set an example by only purchasing from those that demonstrate wage equality and equal opportunity.
Weatbrook was referring to when Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, made a statement at a women’s tech conference (!), that women should not ask for raises, but instead rely on ‘karma.’ Although Nadella did try to make amends via Twitter, the fact that he remained CEO with little ramifications, Weatbrook stated, “really concerns me. I think it’s an indication that we have not come nearly as far as we’d like to think we’ve come.”
More recently, another local figure made off-putting comments about gender, with little response from Seattleites. The comment was made at the district 6 forum on June 6 by (surprisingly) Mike O’Brien, current Council member. Early in the panel, the lack of affordable childcare was discussed. During closing comments, O’Brien, who is known for being the “left’s pleasant voice,” returned to this topic, stating:
“It was within our generation that we switched the way we lived as human beings for eons, where one parent worked […] to support a family, to now it’s just expected that you have two workers and you have to have childcare. You know, that is a choice we make as a society, and if we don’t think that’s working for us, we can choose something else. And we have to figure out how we make those decisions so our economy is more fair, and then I think some of the challenges we’re all facing will be a lot easier. But it’s a lot of work and Seattle can and should lead on this nationally.” *
(See audio recording below)
Hold on. Repeat that. Did a Seattle City leader just say we should go back to a time when women weren’t socially allowed to work? With a tone that said this is the right thing to do? And what does this say about single parents?
Though I’m usually supportive of O’Brien’s work, I for one am not willing to go back to “the way we lived as human beings for eons,” which was an even more unequal world for women. Now, there’s nothing wrong with stay at home parents. But I do believe it is wrong to have a culture that doesn’t give you the choice of staying at home or working. We do need solutions to provide affordable childcare, but 'going back' is not the right choice.
Weatbrook, who was also a panelist at the event, referred to O'Brien's statement as “unsettling,” and the fact that this statement didn’t cause an uproar is a “perfect example” that Seattle has a lot of work to do when it comes to gender equality.
I believe that we can get there—we can create a city, a state, a world, where we treat others with equal worth. But in order to get there, we have to admit the uncomfortable truth that we still have a lot of work to do, and looking back with idealized nostalgia does not help. We have to look the issue straight in the eye, be loud about it, and come up with creative solutions. We can do this!
TAKE ACTION: What are some ways that you have seen people making noise about gender (in)equality? Let me know on Twitter @EqualiSea or click "comment" near the title of this blog!
LEAN MORE: To hear O'Brien's quote referred to above, listen starting at 1:48:30. To hear the section on childcare, listen to 1:14:00 to 1:18:00.
The opinions expressed on www.EqualiSea.org reflect personal opinion only.