Three female political leaders sat to discuss the future of women in politics in Los Angeles at California State University, Northridge in a packed room in the Delmar T. Oviatt Library just days after Election Day.
Wendy Greuel, who was the second woman in the history of Los Angeles to run for mayor and was the city controller from 2009 to 2013; Joy Picus, who served on the Los Angeles City Council for 16 years; and Nury Martinez ’96 (Political Science) a CSUN alumna and the only woman currently on the 15-member city council, all came to share their experiences as political leaders.
Moderator and political science professor Tom Hogen-Esch prompted the conversation with statistics that show how few women have been involved in the political scene in Los Angeles.
Since 1915, there have only been 17 women elected to any position in L.A., which is currently the second largest city in the country but on the lower spectrum of cities with the number of women in political positions, according to Hogen-Esch.
“Something is going on in Los Angeles,” he said. “There is something in our political DNA that is limiting women from political positions.”
Martinez said she thinks a major issue with the lack of a female presence in L.A. politics has to do with the support for them.
“Part of the problem is this notion that women are not qualified to do this position,” she said. “It is ridiculous. We are the toughest on each other. I get criticized about my lipstick. Men can put on a black suit and a red tie and are presidential material like that. We sit there and agonize about how we look, and then when we are finished, we read every policy on an issue so that we can sound intelligent. We have to support one another. Women are doing incredible things.”
Greuel agreed with Martinez and added that women are making some progress in terms of political strength, but there is still a long road ahead for equality among women and men in office.
“We were all told that we weren’t going to win, not going to be tough enough,” she said. “I’m only the third woman to have a child while in office in L.A. I had people who said to me, ‘Why don’t you go home and be a real mom to your child?’ We want to look at the way that women govern differently. This week, we celebrated that 100 women had been elected into Congress. But there are 535 total seats in the Congress. We still have a long way to go.”
Picus said women in politics today should be role models and supporters for future women running for office to gain equality.
“I think men still control the majority of opportunities,” she said. “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know that gets you places. We must learn to find our successor and mentor. It is very important.”
While the panel agreed that having tough skin and the right support is important to success in the political field, above all else, having a passion for what you do should be the driving force in anyone’s position in government.
Greuel shared the hardship she experienced after coming short of winning the mayor’s race last year and how her son inspired her to continue making an effort to make changes for her community.
“My son’s teacher sent me an email after the election last year,” Greuel said. “It read, ‘We were talking in class this week about a book. In the book it said boys are more courageous than girls. … your son raised his hand in class and said, ‘My mom was brave.’ It is about standing up for who you are and what you believe in. You have to get up the next day and ask how you’re going to make a difference.”
Martinez said that while she has dreamed of being involved in politics since a young age, her daughter is an inspiration for her to make decisions that will make L.A. a better place for children.
“People used to ask me, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I would say, ‘The governor,’” she said. “I’ve never seen myself not doing this. And having my daughter, I want to be a role model for her. I think [Greuel] and I have the mommy thing. Our kids really inspire us to do what we can for them. We want to make the city a better place for kids.”
Picus said that one’s passion is what drives one’s success. “Find your passion; then you can change the world,” she added.