Stephanie Schriock knows what she’s doing. She stands at the helm of the pro-choice Democratic women’s political action committee, EMILY’s List, as Washington gets set to welcome a historic number of women into its fold. EMILY’s List has grown substantially in size and influence in the last several years, and hearing their president’s measured but strong passion demonstrates why.
A Conversation with Stephanie Schriock
In many ways, 2012 has been the year of the woman. Whether it was the media frenzy surrounding Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer’s pregnancy, Todd Akin’s comments about legitimate rape, or Anne-Marie Slaughter’s widely-read analysis on women in the workplace today, women and women’s issues have been on the cover of every magazine and a focus on every television channel. But for Stephanie Schriock, the narrative dates to January 2011 in the health care arena, “when the Republicans in the House went after the health care bill right off the bat.” Shriock views the bill, now a law, as a significant step for women, because for the first time being a woman will not be a “pre-existing condition.” Though the attempted “roll back of the clock” on women’s rights began in the health care arena, it evolved into to an attack on reproductive rights, Planned Parenthood, and the definition of rape. In combination, these events garnered much interest in women and women’s issues across the country, making the 2012 elections something of a tipping point.
For Schriock, however, the role of women’s issues was not the only important change for women in the 2012 election. She argues that the growth of organizations such as her own, that sought to ensure that women were positioned to run for office, matters just as much. “Just by force of numbers,” she says, “we are starting are to move on the dial in the right direction.” And while in the past, organizations such as EMILY’s List have focused on ensuring the appeal of candidates to their constituents, in 2012, they worked equally hard, if not harder, to turn out the female vote in favor of pro-choice Democratic candidates. EMILY’s List’s “Women Vote” program is “completely devoted to understanding the minds and positions of women voters across the country.” This year, they had the largest “Women Vote” program in the history of the organization, which, according to Schriock, focused on highlighting what the Republicans were doing (which she wittily adds, “women voters do not like”). The focus on empathy – emphasizing an understanding of what women’s day-to-day lives were like, with work, children and caring for their parents – drove one of the largest gender gaps in a presidential election that this country has ever seen.
The intense focus of Democratic media outlets and organizations on portraying Republicans as misogynistic in order to energize voters has no doubt created bitterness on both sides of the aisle. Schriock, however, doubts that this will prevent bipartisan action, arguing what you’re really going to see from these newly elected women are folks who want to roll their sleeves up and get something done. They’re going to pull people together to deal with the major problems this country is facing, and I think you’re going to start seeing a bit of a tone change in how we address these issues.” The change of tone in Washington though will only be the first step: “When there is truly an equal number of women sitting at the decision-making table in Congress, is when we’re going to get policy that truly represents the communities we live in.” The potential impact on changing the tone of hyperpolarization is encouraging; Schriock asserts that women in politics have already begun to cross the aisles on issues concerning family life.
Schriock says that she is “thrilled but horrified,” when presented with a comparison of the United States and other countries in terms of female leadership. Even with the historic number of women elected this year, the United States lags behind other countries in terms of political gender parity. Do organizations like EMILY’s List play a role in other countries? For Schriock and her team, setting a precedent of having female political leaders starts at home: “The best thing that we can do for the international community is show leadership in the United States. When we elect good, strong, particularly pro-choice Democratic women to Congress, we are more open as a country to learning what’s happening to women and girls around the world.” She encourages donors who support charitable women’s causes around the world to look to their own country, urging them to help bolster America’s own situation so that they can set a better global example.
Named one of TIME magazine’s Top-40-Under-40, Stephanie Schriock can teach the average college-going young woman a great deal. As millennial women become both emboldened and vitalized by the increased talk of women in politics in the United States, Schriock offers an important, enduring piece of advice: Get involved. Get involved. Get involved. Regardless of where young women work – in government, health care or any form of public service – the networks that they build “open doors,” giving young women the power to affect decision-making. Schriock herself began building her networks as a college student in Minnesota where she ran for student Senate. To her, being involved in university governance is “an amazing stepping stone for running for office at either the state or federal level.”
The women at EMILY’s List have time for one deep breath before the plunge into preparations for 2016. Schriock believes that a number of women (not just Hilary Clinton) will be primed and well-placed to run for president whether its in 2016, 2020 or 2024. A woman in the White House would mean that young American girls across the country would soon be able to open their eyes to the political possibilities that await them. Her hopes for the future of women in political leadership have made Stephanie Schriock cautious about the ‘Year of Woman.’ To her and her colleagues at EMILY’s List, every year should be a year in which women and women’s issues are given their due attention.