I Witness Herstory: Barbara Perez

I Witness Herstory invites women to submit their reactions and experiences to developments locally, nationally and globally that effect women. The collection of these submissions will be used in future WMC programs to help educate and inspire current and future generations on the experiences of women.

Currently, we are collecting reactions from local women activists and leaders concerning President Biden’s new administration, the most diverse administration in US history. Over the next few weeks we will post reactions to this historic moment in American government.

Want to help the Women’s Museum of California document women’s reactions and experiences living through historic moments? Submit your I Witness Herstory story here

What is your reaction to the women proposed/confirmed for Biden’s cabinet and to those appointed to his administration?

I do think that Biden’s team’s diversity is a good thing. Diversity and inclusion are valuable because they are ethical; everyone deserves representation. It better represents the diversity in the US. It will also spark a lot of important conversations about diversity throughout the country and set a precedence for more diversity and inclusion within the future of government and politics in this country. However, other countries still do better than us in terms of diversity and I do think it is important to keep this in mind not to be competitive, but as a reminder that representation like this (or even better than this) is something to be expected and not something to pat ourselves on the back for and call it a day. There is still more work to be done in this area.

I think that while diversity itself is hugely important, a more pressing matter is having a cabinet that has progressive points of view and want to further social justice and equity in the US. For example, Marco Rubio identifies as Cuban-American and has been used as a token Latinx by the Republican party. Would I rather have him in office than Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, or even President Joe Biden (who are white) just because he is latinx? No. So I do applaud the cabinet’s diversity, but I also think the priority should be holding the administration to high standards when it comes to their political stances and policy.

·      What added value do you think women bring to governing?

I don’t think so much that it is womxn in particular (in the essentialist/biological sense) that add value to governing. Rather, I think that values/policy that have historically and traditionally been considered “feminine” (for example, peacemaking, a focus on funding education, work-family policy, etc.) have been undervalued within the US while values/policy that have been considered masculine (for example, assertiveness, focus on having a strong military, etc.) have been overvalued and even expected of politicians in the past.

In order for our government to truly represent its people, this has to change. We must wake up to the fact that there are differing ways thinking, being, and of governing other than the traditionally valued masculine ways.

I think we have been stuck on these ways of governing and have had a lack of imagination due to a lack of diversity within government and stubbornness to stray from tradition. Research shows that diversity increases divergent thinking (the ability to think of problems from multiple perspectives), which minimizes functional fixedness and allows teams to come up with more creative solutions to problems (Gielnik, et al., 2012). Hopefully diversity within government (not just in regard to gender but in regard to other identities, perspectives, and ways of thinking) will elucidate different ways of doing things and ensure that the interests of more people within this country are represented in decision making rather than just a select few, as research also shows that within a political setting, elected officials will advocate for policies that benefit the communities they represent (Swers and Larson, 2005).

·      What added value do you think BIPOC women bring to governing?

I would like to reiterate what was said above. However, I would also like to add the following: I am a student doing who is doing research on the American Eugenics Movement for my thesis. The more I delve into this history, the more surprised I am that I hadn’t learned even a fraction of the US’s racist history throughout my schooling—despite taking an interest in history, taking AP history classes in high school, and continuing to take history classes in college. There is a tradition of glossing over racism in the US. There have been moments throughout history where the pushback by BIPOC communities and those who stand in solidarity with them is finally acknowledged. We are living through one of these moments now with the centering of the Black Lives Matter Movement in the mainstream, and finally some acknowledgement of systemic racism and white supremacy by the government. The inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first womxn of color vice president of the US is an achievement. However, we need to continue to push to ensure that these are not simply concessions on part of the government to appease us. What we are after are larger anti-racist commitments on behalf of the government, reparations for BIPOC communities, and the implementation of systemic anti-racist policy throughout the US.

In terms of perspective, Kamala Harris can potentially bring an intersectional one to her position and hopefully, potentially, be able to highlight that as a country we must not only take steps towards battling sexism and misogyny within our society, but also racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and other systems of oppression. Though it is important to note that womxn, people of color, and other oppressed groups are not automatically any less problematic than privileged groups. What she accomplishes will depend more on her ideologies than anything else. Hopefully her vision for the US is an equitable, inclusive, and just one.

However, everything I said above about diversity also stands. This will spark a lot of important conversations about diversity throughout the country and set a precedence for, and normalize, more diversity and inclusion within the future of government and politics in this country.

·      What specific things do you want the Biden administration to do for womxn?

-Pass the ERA or similar policy, as it is long overdue and incredibly necessary

-Ensure that gender-neutral bathrooms are a right

-Loan forgiveness (including for continuing education) to encourage underrepresented populations to seek an education if this is their goal

-Pass mandatory paid family-leave as the US is one of only 2 countries in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave. THIS IS RIDICULOUS.

-Expand Obama care to universal healthcare or a similar system (with mental health care included) particularly to ensure medical care which will lead to better life-expectancies and quality of life for BIPOC and other marginalized groups in the US


Barbara Perez is originally from Miami, Fl, though she currently lives in San Diego. She identifies as Latinx and Cuban-American. She is currently a Master’s student in the Department of Women’s Studies at San Diego State University. Her research interests include feminist epistemology of science, eco feminism, environmental justice, critical animal studies, representation within academic settings, and representation within STEM. 

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