At 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 29 in the Steitz Hall of Science, Penny Bernard Schaber, the Wisconsin State Representative for the 57th Assembly District, gave a talk on “Why Feminism is Still Necessary: A View from Inside the Political System.”
To open the topic, Schaber first shared her experience of working in a picture frame factory when she was in high school. When she realized one male colleague who had the same job as Schaber earned 50 cents more per hour, she brought it up to her boss respectfully and politely. But eventually she was put on the “do-not-rehire list.”
After that experience, Schaber paid more attention to the issue of unequal pay for women. She realized that this problem not only happens in the U.S., it happens worldwide. In her opinion, equal pay can be a very strong economic driver since women tend to make a lot of decisions in their households. She pointed out that in many families, women are the head of household. But these women are paid nearly 10,000 dollars less a year than men who do the exact same jobs. Consequently, these women are not able to invest that extra money in their communities.
Another thing Schaber believes is important is access to education. She said, “We are very lucky that we all have the access to education equally throughout our country,” but that equal access is not the same in other countries. Schaber believes this lack of access to education leads to more health and economic problems. When more girls are going to school, the whole family will benefit and society will be stronger.
After addressing key topics on gender, Schaber opened the discussion to the audience. Freshman Jaime Gonzalez shared his working experiences when he was in high school. Gonzalez said that he was paid more than a female supervisor who had worked there for six years. He said, “The supervisors there, the males get paid a lot more than the females…It is still unfair.”
In this talk, Schaber hoped to make students think about equal pay and women’s education. She said, “We have to give [students] an example and a solution, and ask them to be part of the solution…have them consider what would you do to make a difference, rather than depending on somebody else to do that work for you.”
Instructor of Gender Studies Matthew Wegehaupt felt that this talk was a wonderful opportunity for Lawrence students to interact with elected leaders. He said, “She [Schaber] was directly challenged here for some of her ideas, and I don’t know how many opportunities students get to actually challenge their elective leader.”
Associate Professor of History Monica Rico feels that “it is helpful for Lawrence students to learn from the experience of an ordinary woman who didn’t always plan for a political career, but who felt called to one after many years of satisfying work in another field.” To Rico, it shows that people will find new ways to grow and contribute to the world throughout life.