Women are more than half of the state of Kentucky, yet we are grossly underrepresented. We make up only 22 of the 100 seats in our State House, and only 3 of the 38 Senate Seats (average representation being 15%). There are only two women of color that are legislators, and we have only had one female Governor in our entire history.
Kentucky is a unique state, even more so seen through our Commonwealth, yet we are the eighth-worst state for female legislators. Progress has been in the hands of a few elites, especially in southern states such as Kentucky. A modern example of this would be Senator Mitch Mcconnell’s ruling, as he has served 34 years and five terms, despite having the lowest home-state approval rating of any sitting Senator. We have been in “favor of preserving the status quo” in every way possible, in defense of preserving values and culture.
I have been in Kentucky politics for nearly three years. Unlike most youth who go into it, I have no familial history nor political background. My father was not born in this country, and my mother not from this state. The issues that I have faced first-hand have shown me how vital representation is.
Not only was I the only girl in my high school’s Young Democrat & Republican’s Club, but the only ethnic diversity and the female leader the club(s) have ever had. Challenging would be an understatement, but ultimately the boys who disrespected me, elected me. I was elated to leave the school in lieu of an egalitarian “real-world” environment. I was wrong.
The subtle rhetoric I have experienced in the past years have shown me perhaps the more significant challenges this state and our perception of politicians thereof. When I am canvassing or politically active with a white guy, he will often get the “You will be President/Governor/Mayor one day!” while I will be lucky if I get a “thanks for being here.” I have had elected officials preach diversity and inclusion but say racially insensitive comments. I have had politicians tell me they are “too busy to answer my emails” but see them text my colleague beside me. Opportunities are never given to me; I have to ask, and then ask again.
Behaviors like this only reinforce our assumptions of who has merit to be involved in policy in this state, and it needs to stop. If people only see one type of person or one type of ideology to lead here, we will never progress forward to a government that represents all of us. It is frustrating to myself and any other young women that have the same merit and ability as our colleagues but is put down regularly.
One day, when someone pictures a Kentucky politician, it will be a woman or even a woman of color. We have to diversify our thoughts to eliminate assumptions. Organizations such as Emerge are working hard at this, supporting Democratic women that are running for office by providing leadership training, and it is working. In fact, out of the 55 Emerge candidates that ran in 2018, 27 won, including Rep. Nima Kulkarni, the first Indian-American woman to be in Kentucky’s legislature.
Unlike my colleagues, I have had to open my doors. And while this has given me grit, a tough skin, and a persistence unlike any other, it has also given me frustration, disappointment, and hope that one day, we will have equal representation in our government and places of power. That one day, young women will never have to write articles and give speeches about the same experiences that I face daily. That representation in this state will no longer be a conversation because it will be common practice.
Why Representation Matters, from a Girl in Kentucky Politics. was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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