In this Episode:
This Women’s History Month, we’re wondering: What will it take to achieve a society that prioritizes—and achieves—true equality? Our answers to those questions are the Majority Rules: a series of rules, created by Supermajority, intended to guide us to our ultimate goal of gender equality.
Today, we’re diving into Rule #5, “Our government represents us.” During the 2022 midterm elections, women voters across the U.S. made their voices heard, demanding access to safe reproductive healthcare. And yet, state legislatures—which purport to represent the people—continue to attack reproductive rights, proposing increasingly restrictive bans on abortion, with collateral consequences for reproductive healthcare more generally. In the face of these challenges, how can we work towards a government that truly represents us—and protects us?
- Ms. magazine x Supermajority Ed Fund: The Majority Rules
- “Only When the Government Truly Represents Women Will the U.S. Have a Real Democracy,” Katherine Grainger, Ms. magazine, Mar. 1, 2023.
00:00:10 Michele Goodwin:
Welcome to Fifteen Minutes of Feminism, part of our On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine platform. As you know, we’re a show that reports, rebels, and we tell it just like it is. I think you also know we count minutes in feminist terms. For this episode we are collaborating once more with Supermajority and delving into their Majority Rules, and for this episode we turn to rule five, concluding this important project that will stay alive on our social media platforms and on our website. We are diving into our government represents us.
Now, that’s a statement, it’s affirmative. but for so many it’s a question. For so many it is a hope. For so many it is a dream deferred. You hear me, right? You know, as we think about suffrage, the 19th Amendment was something that was hard fought and not easily won, and we know that there was disenfranchisement even after the 19th Amendment. I’ve talked about Fannie Lou Hamer before on this program, the remarkable comments that just hit you in the gut as she reported about her experience trying to vote in Mississippi for a government that would represent her, being beaten by a guard and an inmate as punishment because she tried to vote. In Mississippi, a state where Black people were forced to guess how many bubbles on a bar of soap or jellybeans in a jar in order to be able to vote.
And so when we’re thinking about rule five, our government represents us, what does that mean? During the 2022 midterm elections, women voters across the United States certainly made their voices heard, demanding that safe reproductive healthcare access was important. These women voters cared also about the economy, they cared about housing, they cared about the environment. That’s probably why they also cared about reproductive rights and really showed how important these matters were to them, were to their kids, were to their families.
So joining me as we think about whether our government represents us, what that looks like in terms of government representing us, what the hopes and dreams for government representing us looks like, I am joined by Congresswoman Katie Porter. Representative Porter is a politician, lawyer, and law professor who currently represents the 47th Congressional District in Orange County, California, serving in the United States House of Representatives since 2019. Representative Porter is widely known for steadfast dedication to keeping our economy strong, stable and globally competitive by mitigating corporate greed, boosting competition and investing in family friendly policies while inviting and encouraging individuals to join congressional conversations. She’s been with us before so we’re thrilled to have her back with us. Sit back and take a listen.
Representative Porter, it is so wonderful to be back with you. Thank you so very much for joining us for this very special episode where we actually conclude our five-part series, Supermajority Majority Rules, and I’m so glad that you’re with us to dive into rule number five, our government represents us. What’s your sense about the truth of that in these times?
00:04:13 Representative Katie Porter:
Our country has certainly made progress, but we are not done, and I think it’s important not to allow celebrations of the progress to stop us from seeing where we’re falling short. And so I have been part of Congress since 2018, it was a record number of women who were elected into the House, it was the election of the first lesbian mother, for example, the first two Native American women, there were so many firsts in that group, but what has happened since then, which is we have made no progress on increasing the representation of women. And in fact, among Democrats in the Senate, for example, we’ve actually gone backwards, and so I think we have to focus on making sure that within and built into each celebration of milestones of representation, part and parcel of that celebration is celebrating the work that we have done to get to this point and lifting up and kind of renewing our commitment to continuing that work.
00:05:22 Michele Goodwin:
It’s a great point that you make because the World Economic Forum has frequently ranked the United States as being very low on the list in terms of women and power, women’s representation in federal government. Heck, this is the same with regard to and even worse, in some cases, women in state houses. I mean, to just take a pause on that, when I think about the Dobbs decision for example, the challenge brought to the court by the state of Mississippi, nearly 87 percent of that state’s legislature are all men.
00:06:03 Representative Katie Porter:
Yes, and we see this at every level of government, I would say, and so I think, you know, as we celebrate some historic firsts, right, our vice president, right, Kamala Harris, I think it’s easy for sometimes us to lose sight of the frequently, you know, I’m a numbers person, of the numbers, which actually are not very good.
00:06:23 Michele Goodwin:
We love your numbers. We love that you bring the numbers to us.
00:06:28 Representative Katie Porter:
And I think part of what we’ve seen is really important diversity within the community of women. That we are making progress on, right. There’s still work to be done, you know, it’s not steady, but what we’re not doing is we’re not just making the numerical progress that we need to make to have that.
And your point about state houses is exactly right. I would also say some areas of government. So I work a lot on economic policy, and you know, you and I were…I was a law professor. You and I both know that business law. sometimes it’s harder to find women professors, sometimes it’s harder to encourage women to take those classes, and so I think that is also an important tool here, is to make sure that we have women on water boards, we have women who are…and of course, guess what the background is to run for water board often? It’s being an engineer, and guess what we don’t have? A lot of women engineers. So some of these are pipeline problems and frankly some of them are structural problems.
You know, I think I may have told you this, but when I ran the first time in 2018 the most common question I got asked wasn’t about policy. What do I believe? What am I going to fight for? What am I doing to do? It was, what will happen to your children if you win?
00:07:56 Michele Goodwin:
Look at that.
00:07:57 Representative Katie Porter:
What will happen to them? We’ll celebrate. We’ll celebrate. Right? What will happen to them? I will continue to care for them. But that, I think, goes to the…
00:08:06 Michele Goodwin:
As if somehow, they will be injured or harmed by the fact that you come to a space of leadership, that you come to represent something positive for our nation and for them, but that somehow that could be read as a negative, as something that could be harmful to them.
00:08:26 Representative Katie Porter:
Yeah, and so, you know, I wrote a book, it’s coming out in April, and in the book I talk a little bit about this navigating this kind of perception that I have put my career before my family, that I have caused my children to suffer, and I am literally fighting for my children and your children and people who don’t have children and people who never want to have children, for the future and my children are going to be part of that, I hope, and you know, I think a lot about this phrase that people often mistakenly will address me as Congressman, and what I hear in my head and how I think of myself is as a Congressmom, and every time someone says that to me I just, in my head I think Congressmom, not Congressman.
00:09:13 Michele Goodwin:
You know, there’s so much to unpack in that, right? We could spend hours just thinking about the psychological assumptions and the psychological pains, right, that can be inflicted upon mothers that work, this idea that somehow, they are not paying attention to their kids, that somehow they have surrendered what it is to be a mom to working a job, that somehow their children will be set back by their mother’s employment.
Now, for you this is big because you sit in government and you lead the United States, right? But it seems to me that that also is something that moms who work as receptionists, who work as nurses, who work as teachers, that they also get this kind of pushback where women are between a rock and a hard place. You need to take care of your families, your kids need to eat, you know, because I think, you know, one of the things when you came into Congress, you also came in as a single mom, too.
00:10:28 Representative Katie Porter:
Yes. Absolutely. So I mean, look, I think that, you know, when I got to Congress I remember having a conversation with one of the members of the Democratic leadership talking about the lack of planning about our time, right, the kind of assumption that our time is the nation’s time, and there’s an element of that that’s true, but there’s also an element of it that’s just entirely preventable and not dealing with it means that it’s making it really hard for women to serve. And I remember talking about this and the person said to me, well, you know, your situation, Katie, as a single mom is just so unusual. And I remember thinking, unusual? There’s like ten million single parents in this country. Like, it’s only in the halls of Congress that being a single mom is unusual, but the fact that it’s perceived that way tells you why our policy doesn’t think, I think, why representation matters and why without representation we are not going to think correctly about policy issues.
And I’ll give you a very concrete example. When we were discussing the expanded child tax credit there were income cutoffs set, so if you were over a certain income you didn’t get this larger child tax credit, and the income, regardless of what you think that threshold should be, there was a problem which was there was a single parent penalty built into it.
00:11:57 Michele Goodwin:
You can’t make that up.
00:11:57 Representative Katie Porter:
So the purpose of a child tax credit is to help the child.
00:12:02 Michele Goodwin:
00:12:03 Representative Katie Porter:
But the threshold was like 125,000 or 100,000 dollars, 150,000 dollars, whatever it was for single people and then it was double that for married. Well, the cost of raising a kid isn’t cheaper for a single parent.
00:12:19 Michele Goodwin:
00:12:20 Representative Katie Porter:
They eat the same number of boxes of cereal. The childcare costs the same. In fact, single parents often need more childcare.
00:12:28 Michele Goodwin:
Absolutely. That’s right.
00:12:28 Representative Katie Porter:
And so when I asked the tax folks in Ways and Means, why are you doing it this way? They said, nobody has ever asked us to do it differently.
00:12:39 Michele Goodwin:
That’s why it matters that you were there bringing that kind of experience such that you could ask that question. Well, and also with your personality, that you would also be a person who would ask that question that seems a part of just what it is that people in your district have come to expect and Americans more broadly.
So I want to switch bases just a little bit to ask you about how the 2022 midterms were historical step towards creating a government, or were they, the 2022 midterms, towards creating a government that is truly representative of women? And I think that, you know, there could be an answer that’s on both sides of that, that on one hand we saw steps forward because women voters came out making very clear that reproductive freedom matters, and yet at the same time, we still don’t have a fully representative government.
00:13:39 Representative Katie Porter:
Yeah. I think that’s a great question and you know, I think one of the things that we grappled with in the election was how to create a positive agenda for women voters. For so long, and this is certainly true about a lot of other historically underrepresented, or groups that have had their rights limited, the black community, the indigenous community, the Latino community, where it’s just all of your political efforts to hang on, to crawl your way, to try of pull yourself to baseline equality, in this case the ability to control your own body, that it’s very hard in that moment to also think about tackling all of the structural things that keep reproducing that lack of rights.
And so, you know, I think it was a powerful moment to see women and increasingly all people stand up for access to abortion, including in some states and places where people didn’t think that mattered, and I would just say it matters everywhere. It matters to every person, it matters to every family, it matters to every human to have control of their body. I think that was a wrong assumption, and this election showed us that people want to make their own decisions about healthcare and about starting a family.
At the same time, there were a lot of voters who felt like, you know, I can’t believe this is what I’m sort of limited to, which is again and again fighting for a right that others, namely in this case men, have had for hundreds of years, and so I think there was a little bit of both an energizing but also a deflating aspect of it.
00:15:34 Michele Goodwin:
No. That’s true, and when you think about it, you know, this has been a centuries’ long fight to make sure that there is full enfranchisement, that there is full representation, and we know with better and more robust representation that the issues that matter to people who are underrepresented, that are vulnerable and that have been passed over, finally those issues come to light, and we’ve seen that you’ve been shining a light on those issues and so have a number of other women who’ve been in Congress.
And so I’m wondering what you see as the next challenges forward to getting to that space where there is better representation, where there is equality in representation. What does that take?
00:16:23 Representative Katie Porter:
Yeah. I mean, I don’t know that I have all the answers. I think in my own life I question a lot, and I think there was a wonderful article written about Lauren Underwood, one of my colleagues on the other day, the youngest black woman to serve in Congress, talking about what it’s like for her and you know, I think part of it is that we really have to be cognizant, we have to be explicit about this.
And so I think as, for example, we see more men supporting abortion rights, that can become then a reason why it doesn’t matter. The person’s going to take “the right vote”, and within the Democratic Party I think we hear a lot of this. Like, well, but he’s good on abortion too. Yes, but he hasn’t had one. He hasn’t faced the personal kind of loss and risk of it, of losing those rights. It’s different and so I think we have to do that work.
I think, you know, the expansion of voting rights that we have seen, and I mean, here when I say voting rights I mean really how people vote is really an important tool to help underrepresented people. Shorter hours at the polls mean that low wage workers can’t get there because they work, you know, different shifts. That means people who have childcare can’t get there. You know, making our polling places accessible to people with disabilities, expanding voting by mail, I mean, that is all part of how we begin to empower people to feel like their vote matters and their voice matters and that they can choose the representatives who represents them.
00:18:08 Michele Goodwin:
Yeah. You know, and you’ve touched upon also the challenges that have come up again with the types of voter suppression that we’ve seen, the ID laws, the laws in Georgia that you can’t give somebody a cup of water while they’re standing in a line where they may be there for four hours, you can’t give them a sandwich, these kind of old Jim Crow kinds of, you know, residue, echoing again in contemporary time.
So before I let you go, we always ask folks about a silver lining and I’m going to get there, but before I do, here’s something that I’m wondering. I’m wondering what you’ve seen as some of the challenges in being who you are and coming to Congress to fight for everybody, that’s clear, but as a mom coming in, a representative, what’s been the biggest challenges for you?
00:19:08 Representative Katie Porter:
Well, I would say that historically, women’s paths to politics have been historically their father was in office, their husband was in office, they’re kind of from a political family, and the women who have blazed those trails have also created kind of perceptions about what a woman in politics should be like, sound like, look like, think like, engage like, and I think it’s important to make space for lots of different kinds of women, and to do this job there’s a lot of, oh, well, that’s just what he’s like. He’s just a straight shooter. You know, he’s just really direct. He gets to the point. Like all of these different, you know, things that we hear and then how they get applied to women.
So I think, you know, navigating those assumptions about how to be a woman in political office, they are still very, very present and I think they apply in different ways for women of color and for younger women and for women who just don’t fit into whatever has historically been the path, which is very frequently, by the way, not only do you have a male family member in politics, but also that you start and embark upon this when your children are “the appropriate age”, and I would just say there is no appropriate age. Like, we need people who are thinking about having families, women who don’t want to have families, women who have little kids and big kids and grown kids and grandkids, and that is the fabric of American society.
And you know, people say, well, it would be easier if you’d waited, and I guess easy isn’t the task, right? The task is full representation. I think about all of the struggles that we have seen people go through historically in this country to fight for the right to vote, and it’s not supposed to be easy. It should be easy, but the fact that it’s not easy doesn’t mean you stop doing it, and I think that’s important for us to hold close to ourselves at this time.
00:21:26 Michele Goodwin:
I think probably a lot of our listeners right now are probably nodding their heads as they hear this probably feeling something deep in their heart and their guts given what you’ve expressed, because we’ve seen it on the right and the left, that sort of pattern of Liz Cheney and her father, you know, we’ve seen that with Secretary Hillary Clinton, I mean, others. I mean it’s left and right folks that we’ve seen and this idea that there is one pattern for women whereas men can have many different patterns, where men can be innovative, direct and all of these things, but women, you know, there’s no room except to say that it’s inappropriate when a woman wants to speak with clarity, right, and those kinds of stereotypes still sting, those kinds of stigmas still sting. I mean, even though you know folks get over it or act as if they do, I think it’s important to point them out, the fact that there are women who are held to a different kind of standard even amongst the community of women. I think there’s just a lot of people probably nodding right now.
So Representative Porter, Congressmom Porter, we ask our guests about a silver lining, and in light of these times where, you know, we’ve seen reproductive freedom yanked through the Dobbs decision in the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, this year affirmative action is also on the docket at the Supreme Court, Justice Kagan has said that there’s been a weaponization of the First Amendment so that all other rights that we know may become vulnerable to an individual saying, well, I have a religious right to be able to discriminate against you and limit all others of your rights, save perhaps for the Second Amendment.
In light of all of that, which seems so dark and challenging and is for our society, what do you see as potentially a silver lining?
00:23:28 Representative Katie Porter:
Yeah. I think with regard particularly to Dobbs and this moment in which abortion is under attack and frankly the rights have been lost already in many places, I think the silver lining here is that we are now able to build a coalition of people who support abortion that is other than self-identified women, right? So we’re asking in this moment for all Americans to stand up and fight for people’s freedom, and when you look at the amazing work that was done leading up into Roe and those fights, this was a women’s issue. We’ve all heard this, right? I get so tired of this, women’s issue.
And I think what we’re seeing now and what I saw certainly knocking doors and having conversations was a really delightful growing voice among men who are able to say the word abortion, men who are able to say abortion rights matter, and I think that, ultimately, if we can harness this moment and the political power to get our rights back, gives us a better, firmer foundation to preserve them going forward.
00:24:47 Michele Goodwin:
Representative Katie Porter, I thank you for joining us for this very special episode in our collaboration with Supermajority. Thank you so much.
00:24:57 Representative Katie Porter:
Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine. I want to thank each of you for tuning in for the full story and engaging with us. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode where you know we’ll be reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is.
For more information about what we discussed today, head to MsMagazine.com and be sure to subscribe. And if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America and being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to rate, review and subscribe to On the Issues with Michele Goodwin at Ms. Magazine in Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Stitcher, wherever it is that you receive your podcast. We are ad free and reader supported. Help us reach new listeners by bringing this hard hitting content in which you’ve come to expect and rely upon by subscribing.
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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling, and telling it just like it is. On the Issues with Michele Goodwin is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Michele Goodwin and Kathy Spiller are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal, Oliver Haug, and also Allison Whelan. Our social media content producer is Sophia Panigrahi. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Natalie Holland, and music by Chris J Lee.
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