Refinery29 has partnered with Allison Rapson and Kassidy Brown, founders of the media company We Are the XX, for a documentary series exploring the lives of women around the world. "A Woman's Place" features the empowering stories of female activists working for real change in their communities. This story draws on interviews conducted by Rapson and Brown, as well as additional reporting from Refinery29 in New York.
It's impossible to ignore the fact that politics in the United States is still a male-dominated field. "Impossible" isn't hyperbole; men far outnumber women at all levels of government across the country. There are only 20 women in the U.S. Senate, and 23 states have never had a woman governor. Massachusetts is one of them, and while the state's government is still male-dominated, women — all women of color, in fact — are shaking up the Boston City Council.
City Council member Michelle Wu only got into politics after she had to confront systemic problems in her community. "I never thought I would be into politics when I was younger. I didn't see a lot of people who looked like me in government," Wu said. "It wasn't until a series of family situations that led me to all of a sudden see how much it matters. It matters for schools that you're trying to send your kids to. It matters for your parents and health care."
That same impulse drove Andrea Campbell to run for office. She grew up to be an Ivy League-trained lawyer, but her twin brother got caught up in the criminal justice system and died while in custody.
"I share his story often because I ask myself the question, how do two twins born and raised in the city of Boston have such different life outcomes?" she said. "I've lived many of the experiences that families in this district have lived. And I see this as an incredible opportunity to bring their stories not only to the city council in Boston but to different policy spaces, so that when we're shaping policies that affect their lives, people really understand a piece of their struggle."
According to one study, women are less likely to run for office — not because they don't have strong policy ideas or ambition, but because people don't ask them. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has started working to get more women involved, but increasing the number of role models for politically minded women like Wu and Campbell is a crucial part of the puzzle.
Wu won re-election in November, and Campbell defeated a longtime incumbent, which means there are now a total of four women who won their city council races. Annissa Essaibi George won a big upset victory against a longtime male incumbent, and Ayanna Pressley won a fourth term. These two newcomers and two up-and-coming problem-solvers could become a powerful force for change in a city that is still struggling to make its politics look more like its population.