Group encourages women to have it all

From left, Caiti Lord, Catherine Donavon, director Janet Davidson, Debrianna Mansini, Pat Briggs and Lisa Lucas rehearse a reading of Gina Gionfriddo’s 2012 play Rapture, Blister, Burn in preparation for performances Saturday and Sunday at Center Stage, 505 Camino de los Marquez. Courtesy photo by Janiece Jonsin

You can be lonely with your family, or you can be lonely with your career.

So says a millennial woman in Gina Gionfriddo’s 2012 play Rapture, Blister, Burn, a comedy that explores perspectives of feminism across three generations. The comment speaks to a debate that is still raging: Can women have it all?

Reena Szczepanski, executive director of Emerge New Mexico, an organization that recruits and trains women Democrats to run for public office, says that, as a mother with a full-time job, she often feels like she has it all. “It’s challenging, but I feel so lucky that I didn’t have to battle for it,” she said.

The United States is closer than ever to seeing a woman — and a mom — elected to its highest office. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is “exciting this whole group of women,” Szczepanski said.

Women and girls are gaining ground academically and in the workforce, even in science and tech fields traditionally dominated by men. Still, the fight is far from over. Obstacles remain for working women, Szczepanski said, such as low wages, a lack of child care support, and lack of family leave and sick leave. And these aren’t just barriers for women, she said, but issues that affect the overall economies of the state and nation. Her organization, celebrating its 10th year of helping women get elected to office in New Mexico, is working to bring those issues to the foreground.

“Having women at the table can make these issues priorities,” she said.

In celebration of its anniversary and to help raise awareness of its mission, Emerge New Mexico is holding two performances of Rapture, Blister, Burn this weekend at Center Stage, 505 Camino de los Marquez.

In its 10 years, Emerge has seen dozens of success stories. Szczepanski said 30 of its graduates are now holding public offices in the state. Among them: Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Vigil, First District Court Judges Sylvia LaMar and Jennifer Attrep, and Santa Fe school board member Linda Trujillo. New Mexico Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland is a grad. And Szczepanski said the group celebrated a milestone Tuesday, when it saw its first grad get elected as mayor — Diana Murillo Trujillo of Anthony.

Emerge hopes to one day see 50 percent of public offices in the state held by women. “I think women should be represented in numbers that reflect our population,” Szczepanski said.

Though women are the majority on the New Mexico Supreme Court — three of five justices — and Gov. Susana Martinez holds the state’s highest elected position, just two women were elected to the seven top statewide offices in 2014. One is disgraced former Secretary of State Dianna Duran.

Fewer than a third of the 70 members of the state House of Representatives are women, and the 42-member state Senate has just seven women.

“They are bearing an incredible responsibility,” Szczepanski said of New Mexico’s woman senators.

The state lags far behind Colorado and Vermont, where more than 40 percent of the legislative seats are held by women. But it ranks higher than Louisiana, with 11.8 percent of women lawmakers, and Wyoming, Oklahoma and South Carolina, each with just over 13 percent, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Just 19 percent of the U.S. congressional seats are held by women. In comparison, many nations have minimum quotas for the number of women who serve on their parliamentary bodies. Ecuador, for instance, reserves nearly 39 percent of seats for women; Argentina, 36 percent and Mexico, 42 percent. Rwanda requires that nearly 64 percent of its lawmakers be women, largely because the 1994 genocide left the nation with a steep gender imbalance.

Emerge is one of several groups around the United States trying to boost the number of women in political positions. Szczepanski said the group focuses on Democratic women because it believes they are “unique champions” for the kinds of issues that impact women and families, such as civil rights and economic equality.

The group seeks out potential candidates for its training program, women who are leaders in their community organizations, churches, schools and professional fields. It then selects 25 each year for its seven-month program, offering training one Saturday a month on topics such as public speaking, fundraising and what it means to serve in a public office.

The tuition is $300, Szczepanski said, but the group also offers scholarships for those who need the help.

Trujillo, who is now running for Rep. Luciano “Lucky” Varela’s seat in the state House of Representatives, said she graduated from Emerge’s program in 2010 and still receives support from the group and continues to participate in its workshops. “The training has been fabulous,” she said. Without it, she said, never would have gained the confidence to run for her school board seat and certainly wouldn’t have been ready to seek a seat in the state Legislature.

Varela is retiring after 30 years in office, but his son, Jeff, is running for the seat. Like Trujillo, the Varelas are Democrats.

Szczepanski said this weekend’s fundraiser performance, a dramatic reading that highlights the struggles of three generations of women, will serve as reminders that, as a society, we have failed to put the systems in place that will allow women to “have it all” — at home and in their careers.

Director Janet Davidson of Santa Fe, a former Los Angeles TV and film director, said Rapture, Blister, Burn is a smart and funny look at feminism in all of its forms — and the clash between old-schoolers like Gloria Steinem and the millennial generation.

“Hillary’s generation had to fight,” Davidson said. “… The younger generation doesn’t see how quickly they could lose the gains.”

Contact Cynthia Miller at 505-986-3095 or cmiller@sfnewmexican.com.

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