She's Out There! by essayist Fiona Lowenstein, New York, NY
At 12 years old, I began my essay for She's Out There! with the sentence, "I sincerely hope I am not the first woman president." My aspiration to join a long line of female presidents hardly seemed dramatic then. Hillary Clinton had just announced her candidacy, and Nancy Pelosi had become Speaker of the House. Looking back, my optimism seems a bit naïve. Don't get me wrong, I still believe in a long line of female presidents, but I now have even more respect for the women who have paved the way thus far. After following Hillary Clinton's heroic battle in particular, I have realized how strong women must be to run for office.
My interest in politics was first sparked by the 2000 election. I decided, at age six, that I wanted to be a news reporter, and throughout elementary school I attempted to start newspapers. My classmates were receptive to my ideas -- or maybe they just thought the newspapers were fun. Either way, I don't remember feeling alone in my passion.
When I was 11, I participated in a mock-Congress which passed a hypothetical bill. That's when I decided I wanted to run for office. The next year, I wrote my first term paper -- about the history of women in politics. I contacted women in the House and Senate and was able to interview several, as well as Geraldine Ferraro. I titled my paper after a Nancy Pelosi quote, "Breaking the Marble Ceiling." Through my research I also secured an internship with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Despite the fact that I was only 12, her staff welcomed me, treating me like any other intern and providing one of the best experiences of my life. Congresswoman Maloney remains an inspirational role model for me.
I became increasingly interested in the deficiency of women in leadership roles and looked to share these shocking statistics with my peers. But there seemed to be a deficiency of teenage girls interested in politics, as well. This worried me. Who was going to change the leadership gap if not my generation? I was frequently asked, "Why are you so interested in politics?" To me, politics was not a hobby, like knitting or soccer; it was the world around me...how could I not be interested? Another surprise was how few girls and women identify themselves as feminists. Many of my friends treat it as a dirty word, or as a movement with no relation to them.
Growing up, I was lucky to have the guidance and friendship of Barbara Seaman, a women's health rights advocate. Barbara gave me books, introduced me to inspiring women, and taught me to think for myself about feminism, politics, and the world around me. After her death in February 2008, I remembered her faith in the next generation, and her belief that there would be young women to take on her life's work. I considered why girls my age didn't identify with feminism. That spring I started my website, BarbarasAngels.com, with the goal of building a community of girls interested in feminism, leadership, and politics.
During a TV interview for She's Out There! I mentioned the site; afterward, I received emails from all over the country. I had an additional opportunity to meet like-minded girls when I participated in a summer retreat in Washington, D.C., called Running Start. An extension of WUFPAC -- Women Under Forty Political Action Committee -- Running Start allows 50 girls with aspirations to run for office to meet women who work on Capitol Hill, in advocacy, as fundraisers, and as campaign managers. I was inspired to learn how many girls applied for the program. Apparently there are 30,000 high school girls who want to run for office!
Finally, through the amazing experience of She's Out There!, I have met several of the other essayists. Reading their blogs I feel I know even more of them. While I hope She's Out There! is inspiring to readers, I know it has changed my perspective. Connecting with one another, we young women are now building our own, network, an "Old Girls Network." At nearly 16, I finally have an optimistic outlook on the future of our country and the role my generation will play.