Rep. Jackie Speier: 'We're All Still Pioneers'


Melissa Mark-Viverito recently made history as the first Latina to be elected speaker of the New York City Council.

Mark-Viverito told Fusion's Alicia Menendez that she'll likely face a higher level of scrutiny than her male predecessors have endured.


Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is someone who knows well what it's like to be a woman in the political world. Speier was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 but has been in politics since her twenties, serving as a county supervisor in the San Francisco Bay Area and then in the California Assembly and Senate.

She said during an interview Thursday with Fusion's Menendez that women are making progress when it comes to achieving leadership roles in politics but added, "I don't think we're making progress fast enough."

There are still just 20 women in the Senate and only around 18 percent of representatives in the U.S. House are women, at a time when women make up more than half of all voters. Speier added that the Republican party, in particular, has suffered from a lack of women and that "that's got to change over time."

"We're all still pioneers," she said.

She remembers, she told Menendez, the first time a woman wore a pantsuit in the California State Senate.

"People were aghast," she said.

While pantsuits are no longer uncommon, they are certainly still analyzed and critiqued. And so are the way female politicians dress and cut their hair, Speier said.


But Speier is more concerned with the fact that a lack of women in Congress means a lack of attention being paid to issues that impact women.

She cited military rape as an example.

"There's much greater scrutiny on it now because women in both the House and the Senate are looking at the issue," she said.


Another is abortion, an area men, primarily white men, have tried to exert influence.

"It's very important for women to be in positions where we can address these issues," she said.


Speier shocked colleagues when she revealed on the House floor in 2011 that she had undergone an abortion procedure called a dilation & evacuation, or D&E, after doctors informed her that a planned pregnancy had become unsustainable. She decided to speak about the experience, she told Menendez, because a male representative who "knew nothing" was "giving falsehoods on the House floor" about abortion procedures and she felt "compelled to speak up."

"Women have had to jump a little higher, be a little smarter, work a little harder," she said. "But in the end, it has all been worthwhile."


Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.