This Q&A was originally published at https://www.hercampus.com/school/bu/future-female-qa-melody-shaff while Haley served as a contributor at Her Campus Media's BU chapter.
With her vibrant red hair and warm smile, Melody Shaff might be the last person you’d imagine as President of the Boston University College Democrats. After all, political stereotypes have taught us to expect serious men in suits, with furrows between their brows, standing in front of a podium and ranting passionately about the importance of welfare and a woman’s right to choose.
But like many BU students, Melody doesn’t believe that she, as a woman, is any less capable of leading than the men we normally see ruling the field of politics. Between the #MeToo and #HandsOffMyBC movements on social media, one thing has become starkly clear to Americans: women are no longer content to sit and watch men do all the dirty work.
We are creating our future, and the future is female. Whether by declaring a political science minor like I did or becoming involved in a leadership position like Melody did, women of all backgrounds have the opportunity to get involved in politics today, on both the small and large scales.
Even so, that doesn’t automatically mean all women have the confidence to seize those opportunities to lead – which is why I talked to Melody about her experiences as a female leader, the 2016 election, and what the female future looks like in American politics.
Her Campus: First thing’s first -- what inspired you to choose political science as a major?
Melody: Growing up in a liberal household during the Bush years, I had a fair amount of exposure to political debates and rants through my parents, which sparked my own interest in politics. The debate over which rights and liberties were afforded to people classified as "enemy combatants," around the time of the Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case, prompted a conversation with my dad about separation of powers and the roles of each of the branches of government. From then on, I tried my best to stay informed and engaged in politics. When I came to college and it came time to choose a major, political science seemed like the natural next step. It was different than I anticipated at first, but I have loved learning to analyze political behavior to have a better understanding of the "how" and "why" of politics.
HC: Have you experienced sexism in your field (from classmates, in internships, etc.)?
M: I would say I have been relatively lucky in this regard, but I have not been immune from micro-aggressions nor blind to the gender imbalance in academia. I am proud to say that in BU College Democrats we have an executive board that, though it ebbs and flows with each election, always has a strong female presence and I am happy to see other clubs and organizations on campus with a similar story. This gives me hope that the next generation of leadership –– our generation of leaders –– will continue to chip away at patriarchal systems that systematically disadvantage women (especially women of color) and do away with antiquated gender norms.
HC: What makes being a female in politics different from being a male in politics?
M: I think women have a far harder time being taken seriously as leaders and are forced to navigate a minefield in choosing how to address issues. We saw this in the past presidential election. Traits that make women particularly qualified for public office can upset the image of women as warm and passive. This invites criticism of these women as manipulative, cold-hearted and deceptive despite the entire "deception" simply being a refusal to adhere to traditional roles and manners allowed and encouraged in women. We don't often, if ever, hear the same types of critiques of male politicians who in parallel circumstances are seen as strong leaders capable of making tough decisions.
M: I support both movements. For the #MeToo campaign, I do think it’s essential to demonstrate the magnitude of abuse, but with the caveat that no survivor of harassment or assault should be shamed or guilted into sharing before they're ready, as this only further harms those already suffering.
The #HandsOffMyBC movement is certainly powerful, but one concern I do have is some of the emphasis on birth control as it is used as a treatment for conditions, like endometriosis. While this is absolutely and one-hundred percent a valid use of birth control and should be incorporated in the discussion, it is paramount that this type of argument is not the only, or even dominant, defense of birth control, as reproductive autonomy for women is itself a legitimate reason to tell lawmakers #HandsOffMyBC….
I think both movements serve important purposes, but it is also imperative that we continue to create a dialogue interacting with them rather than letting them become monoliths overshadowing the individual voices they were meant to highlight.
HC: Finally, what hopes do you have for the future of women in America & politics?
M: My hopes for the future of women [in politics] are simple: stay active and stay involved. As frustrating as it is, we cannot trust that others will better our situation for us. We must continue to fight for what matters to us…
I [also] hope we can unite against injustice without shaming those who were unaware of the depth of the problems... Those issues we feel most viscerally are the easiest to feel passionate about, but we can all learn and we can all teach and in so doing create an inclusive, positive, and powerful movement toward social justice and equality. That is my hope for the future of women in America and in politics.