Three political competitors showed no signs of rivalry as they sat shoulder-to-shoulder to support each other and their unifying role as female politicians.
Debbie Peterson, Karen Bright and Liz Doukas – each running for a spot on Grover Beach’s city council – were just three of 10 panelists at a Women’s Equality Day event in San Luis Obispo Tuesday evening.
“Even though there are only two seats, we are being very confident and supportive of all of us,” Bright said as she looked to her competitors sitting on either side of her. “We know how important it is to have women on the council and I think that our community does too.”
San Luis Obispo’s chapter of the National Organization for Women hosted the panel of local female politicians to celebrate the 88th year of women’s suffrage. With a modest turnout of about 15 community members, the discussion covered topics from emotional temperament to youth mentoring.
“It’s really important to celebrate our victories,” said Sue Maisner, a long-time Central Coast resident who attended the meeting. “The fact that it wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t have the right to vote is something important to celebrate.”
San Luis Obispo’s NOW chapter holds a meeting each year for Women’s Equality Day, but this year was a little different.
“It’s not unusual to have a public forum, but this is an unusual gathering because most of the women candidates for city council level positions are here,” NOW president Angie King said.
It was also a big year for women’s equality because of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House.
“It’s really, really important now to be doing this if you look at women in politics because we had a presidential candidate running for the first time,” Maisner said.
Christine Mulholland, a panelist who described herself as the “lame duck” on the San Luis Obispo city council, said she never thought she’d end up in elected office.
“There have been a couple of times, during council meetings, when I have been unconscionably attacked,” Mulholland said. “I’ve had even staff and the CAO come to me afterwards and call me the next day and say, ‘Are you all right?’”
When asked later by an audience member if she was harassed because she was a woman or because of her viewpoints, Mulholland pointed to gender.
“I know when the men had differing opinions, they didn’t speak to each other that way,” Mulholland said.
A majority of the panel agreed that it’s important to hProxy-Connection: keep-alive
e women in public office because of the different perspective they have to offer.
“Women more than men know how the community works, because you’re out there in it all the time,” Morro Bay Mayor Janice Peters said. “You’re dealing with schools, you’re dealing with stores, you’re dealing with the transportation. Lots of times, that goes right over the men’s heads.”
Board of supervisors retiree Shirley Bianchi said she dealt with gender discrimination daily.
“There wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t subjected,” Bianchi said. “I got over feminism, then I got ageism.”
Through her career, she said she witnessed situations when the only woman in the group would give in to the male majority’s opinion.
“One trap I think women fall into is being a victim when you’re not,” Bianchi told the audience. “You’re a woman. And a woman is not a victim.”
She, like Peters, said women bring a fresh perspective to local government.
“Women do tend to be more relational than men,” Bianchi said.
Betty Winholtz of Morro Bay’s city council shared the story of an “explosive” but “memorable” protest she took part in 10 years ago when 75 women spoke out against the all-male advisory boards.
“It was quite a little meeting and we got a little notoriety for it,” she said. Today, Morro Bay has the only city council in the county with three women on board.
King said the forum sparked the kind of conversation she hoped it would.
“I was a little disappointed that there weren’t more people, but I think everyone who came in the audience and on the panel got a lot out of it,” she said after the meeting. “It was a really good chance to see them as women, as candidates, but more in the commonalities that we all have.”