The Craig Fahle Show

Women In The Michigan Legislature

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Photo courtesy of MLive

The Michigan Legislature is at a 20-year low with women politicians, and representation of women of color is even worse. Guest hosts Christy McDonald and Chastity Pratt Dawsey sit down with state Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Detroit, and state Representative Vicki Barnett, a Democrat from Farmington Hills, to discuss the important role of female members of the state Legislature.

When Chastity and Christy ask Representatives Tlaib and Barnett about why the gender gap exists so prominently in Lansing, both women attribute the issue to generations of gender inequality at both the state and national level.

Photo courtesy of

“Women like myself, who are in office, are always seeking permission to be in a position of leadership,” says Tlaib. The result, she says, is a lack of women voices in the Legislature and it’s a major problem. Representative Barnett agrees, but suspects that the disproportionate number of women in leadership goes back to the opportunities, or lack thereof, for networking among women during the early stages of career building.

“I think it’s another one of the problems, women don’t seem to have the same kind of networks growing up that men do, it’s still a good old boys club, women aren’t in those places, so access to the halls of power is still quite limited,” says Barnett. “I think part of the problem is that women think they have to learn everything about everything before they run, and men aren’t like that,” she adds.

The female lens is an important one when making decisions that affect all constituents, not just adult men. For example, “women know that the average age of a homeless person in the state of Michigan is 8 years old, we need to start addressing that issue, women approach social issues in the legislature in a much different way than men,” says Barnett.

When women presume they can’t have a child while serving, or feel their voice isn’t heard, it can result in an environment where many women feel discouraged and the cycle of gender inequality consequently continues. “I nursed my son on the floor, and it can be inspiring to other women; to show them ‘Oh yeah, I can have a child while I’m serving,’” Tlaib says of her experience as a mom and a member of the Michigan House.

--Annamarie Sysling