Wyoming’s elected officials at state and national levels have demonstrated that they’re out of touch with women’s issues—and deeply ignorant of women’s daily lives and experiences. That’s why a group of women in the aptly-nicknamed Equality State are trying to subscribe each and every one of them to Ms. for the next two years.
In November, I emailed a Wyoming state representative and posed a simple question: “What do you plan to do for women?” He responded with “I don’t know”—and forwarded my email to another male representative who sent the same response. Despite “not knowing” what they would do for women, two months later these two men supported the passing of two bills that restrict women’s reproduction rights. The state legislature also voted against raising our minimum wage—which is the worst in the USA and a woman-dominated wage bracket—and predictably decided to attack funding for education, a field chiefly employing women.
Wyoming has the largest gender pay gap in the country and the smallest percentage of women in its state legislature. My state is among the costliest for spending on childcare in relation to income and faces continuing cuts in publicly funded family planning and women’s health services. Wyoming mandates only the bare federal minimum wage and offers only the unpaid family and medical leave required by the federal government. Health care and insurance are expensive and are often inaccessible to single mothers and low-income women.
Republican men are the super-majority in elected office in Wyoming, at the state and national level. Historically, women lobby for women—and since women’s representation is unlikely to shift in a big way soon, it’s necessary to demand that the male legislators become our champions. They have proved capable of legislating for causes for which they are lobbied and educated in—guns, ranching, minerals, business—so our hope is that perhaps if women start lobbying them, hard, and educating them, they will legislate to empower rather than injure us.
I tried to respond to the “I don’t know” emails. I tried to distill all of the aspects that lead to women not being in elected office, the difficulties of low wages, the struggle of pausing a career versus paying expensive childcare and the insult of not being respected with the trust to make health and family decisions. But I found it impossible to research and fit the entirety of women’s history and its effects on our modern lives into an email.
While reading a copy of Ms., it came to me that we should subscribe the folks who represent our state to the magazine in order to aid the beginning of a long needed conversation. A close group of like-minded women encouraged me to pursue the idea. I contacted Ms, researched crowdfunding, figured project costs and sought collaborators for a letter of intent. Banding together makes us more powerful, and thus our letter of intent was written and edited by at least eight of us over a period of three months; it is addressed to our legislators and outlines who we are and why we are giving them a subscription to Ms.
During this time, sparks were flying across Wyoming and the country. Women’s Marches happened, including several in Wyoming (even my town of Pinedale, population 2000). Locally, the march spurred a heightened desire for activism and has resulted in a women’s advocacy group. Women are now organizing all over Wyoming—and although we are scattered across a rural state, we are connecting via social media and we will become an influential lobby.
If we succeed, every single Wyoming state house representative and state senator; top state elected officials including the governor, secretary of state, state auditor, superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer and attorney general and our two senators and one representative will receive Ms. four times a year. If we exceed our goal, we will donate funds towards Wyoming nonprofits that empower women. If we greatly exceed our goal, we will look into subscribing many of our county and municipal officials to the magazine as well.
Through Ms., our politicians will be able to read articles that shed light on women’s lives and our history. Yes, some of them will throw it directly into the trash, providing a physical illustration of how they feel about women’s issues—but I hope instead for the curious. I hope more than a few will read some articles. Perhaps we could have a statewide reading group! “Hey Mr. Representative, what did you think of that story on page 28?”
It’s a tough incline, but we are already climbing—and starting hard conversations are among the first steps. With people’s support we can make it happen. Click here to support the campaign.