Real talk: These Philly trailblazers discuss what they still have to deal with as women

Despite a month devoted to the strides of women and a tireless fight for gender equality, our male-dominated society proves there’s still so much more to be done.

From mansplaining to unequal pay, sexist practices and connotations continually pervade social, academic and career workspaces.

In order to understand just what even the most powerful and prominent of women are up against when it comes to “dismantling the patriarchy,” Philadelphia Weekly asked a few influential figures around the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection about one thing they are surprised they still have to deal with as women.

“Philadelphia is finally being recognized as a food city and there are a few women who have earned national food awards and have been recognized in the national food media. But, after all these years, restaurant kitchens still tend to be male-dominated. I am surprised that we aren’t seeing many more women cooking in restaurant kitchens in Philadelphia.”

– Irene Levy Baker, author of Unique Eats and Eateries of Philadelphia & 100 Things To Do In Philadelphia Before You Die

“That women still have to be nearly perfect in order to get and keep her job in almost every field. They don’t have a ‘boys club’ to rely upon when she makes a mistake or to help her get to that next step in her career. Women still have to justify why they should get equal pay for equal work and often have to work extra hard for a significant raise. Women often can’t use the excuse of getting married or starting a family as a justifiable reason to get higher pay.”

– Phuong Nguyen, executive director and co-founder of The Women’s Film Festival

“I had a plumber in last year to fix a broken urinal, he was introduced to me as the owner and when he was finishing up and writing out the invoice he asked to explain the issue to the line cook because he didn’t want to upset the ‘little lady.’ Needless to say, we stopped using that plumber.

“I had two guys come in and they ordered ‘girly drinks.’ I brought over a bottle of Jameson and Espolon and asked what one they would like as a shot since that’s what my girlfriends and I drink.  They changed their order after that.

“I’m still surprised at how often it is assumed that I know less about the beers and the products that I purchase for my bar. Or [when] it is assumed what styles of beer I will like based on my gender.”

– Erin Wallace, owner of Old Eagle Tavern and Devil’s Den, and co-chapter leader of the Pink Boots Society, Greater Philadelphia Area Chapter

“I know that I am judged as much for the style of my hair as for the substance of my comments and that no longer surprises me.

“But I am surprised by something else. These days, I often receive extraordinarily warm and enthusiastic greetings – especially from young women. They are genuinely excited by my election and my work – and by the efforts of so many other women in this 116th Congress. They tell me they are paying attention and are so happy and excited that I am there, and in their eyes I can see that it is because they see themselves in me.

“What a feeling; what a warm spirit that I get to carry with me; what an honor — and of course, what an awesome responsibility.”

– U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean

“Following the second Women’s March on Philadelphia, my resistance sisters and I were invited to Harrisburg by State Reps Joanna McClinton, Donna Bullock, and Brian Sims. Their intention was to honor us with a proclamation about women’s rights on the floor of the State House. We arrived early in the day, eager to see the proceedings. But as the morning wore on and we watched hockey teams, beauty pageant winners, and a champion jacks player all receive recognition, we began to realize that our turn was not going to come. We later found out that resolutions such as [ours] must pass with unanimous consent, but [ours] could not be approved because some members of the House found statements about women’s rights and equality to be controversial. I experienced fear, disgust, and anger all at the same time. In 2018, how could the topic of women’s rights be controversial? At that moment, I knew despite the progress we have been making, we still have a long way to go before women are equal.”

– Beth Finn, co-founder of the Women’s March on Philadelphia and candidate for Philadelphia City Council at Large

“In a recent conversation with a male voter, I spoke about business tax policy, and he couldn’t fathom what I was saying. Another man entered the conversation and said repeated my policy word for word. Suddenly the male voter thought it was a great idea and understood completely. I’m surprised women still need men to act as their interpreters.”

– Tonya Bah, candidate City Council in Philly’s 8th District

“I am constantly shocked at how hard women have to fight to make sure our accomplishments are documented, much less acknowledged and celebrated, as part of our qualifications. Men are seen as ‘powerhouses’ merely for their positions and titles. I’ve achieved some groundbreaking accomplishments in my first three years on Council: I passed the nation’s most expansive Fair Workweek law, established the first legal defense fund for renters facing eviction which has helped drive eviction filings down by 20 percent and led the most ambitious schools agenda the city has seen. I want to see more people lifting up the real work that women are doing.”

– City Councilwoman Helen Gym

“I struggle with the continued existence of this stereotype you can’t be both a strong, successful woman and warm and caring at the same time. Especially being involved in pageants, people sometimes have a preconceived assumption I’m probably mean, unintelligent, or self-centered. There’s this false idea that certain traits in women automatically mean a lack of others.”

– Alysa Bainbridge, Miss Philadelphia 2019

“I am often taken back by how people respond to me asking questions.  I am a naturally curious person by nature and a market researcher by profession, so I always want to know how things happen, why decisions are made, and the root of an issue.  So it can be frustrating when my questions are interpreted as a sign of ignorance, or as an inability to make decisions. People think I’m questioning them, that I don’t understand something, or that I cannot make a decision when really I’m just gathering information. Doctors have to ask patients a lot of questions in order to properly diagnose and treat a patient.  Diagnosing a problem, so I can properly treat it is ultimately what I’m trying to do.”

– Bonnie, aka “Bontonomo Bay” Putnam, co-captain of the City Wide Specials, Philly Roller Derby’s C-team

“The first thing that comes to mind is how different my experience is riding a bicycle every day than it is for my husband. The comments I receive vacillate between catcalls and indictments of my choice to bike with my kid. I think this illuminates a larger issue – choices that we make as women are cast as broad judgments on our character. And even more so, the fact that I have to constantly remind folks and advocate for myself that things are different purely because I’m a woman.”

– Leigh Goldenberg, executive director of Theatre Philadelphia

“I still find it surprising that I have to explain myself for a lot of things. People ask me, ‘What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Why is it important?’ The fact that I have to explain why it is important to me — shouldn’t have to be explained. The harsh reality is that people are dying. Why should I not be concerned over people dying, whether it be my family or not.”

– Anissa Wheeler-White, 16, director of community relations at March for Our Lives Philadelphia

“People still think we have to pay our dues in a way that maybe they wouldn’t ask of men. And I think I saw that a little bit when I ran for office last year. I’ve been practicing law for almost 25 years. I’ve been at two non-profits. And people are still like, ‘Do you think you’re ready to run for office?’ I don’t know if they ask men that. Men just take what they want. Also, still, of course, the focus on clothes and makeup. During that campaign, people would say, ‘You should wear more lipstick.’ I hope that we’ll just get to the point where we can just run and lead and do what we’re doing, and be judged on the work.”

– Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA and former candidate for U.S. House of Representatives

“When I was raising my own children, advocacy for family-friendly workplace policies that included on-site childcare was an issue. Four decades later, workplaces that offer on-site childcare are still rare. Unfortunately, it’s a benefit that few workplaces offer.”

– Jovida Hill, executive director of the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Engagement for Women

“I am surprised that economic disparity persists between men and women. Today, women still earn about 85 percent less than men; women who are single parents are among the poorest in society and the majority of the 1.5 billion people worldwide living on less than a dollar a day, are women. The ‘feminization of poverty’ continues to persist.”

– Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder and executive director of Project HOME

“I’m surprised there’s still a negative stereotype about working moms in politics. At a time where we’re encouraging women to run for office, we need to accommodate childcare, be flexible with scheduling, and appreciate the unique perspective that parents bring to the table. More moms on the ballot means better elections for women and children.”

– Jennifer Devor, candidate for City Commissioner  


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