Written by Caitlin McDonough
Rashida Tlaib, current congresswoman for Michigan’s 13th congressional district and member of the ‘Squad,’ opened up to several Carlow University students about what it’s like to be a woman politician in the U.S. and how people view her and the Squad.
Tlaib, an American politician and activist, prefaced her words with an acknowledgement that she gets “policed a little bit differently” for what she says. As a woman of Palestinian descent and Muslim faith, her opinions on the Israel-Palestine conflict are often at the forefront of criticism about her, despite her accomplishments.
Tlaib had to be convinced to run for office initially, as she used to work in the nonprofit sector. She was told by a friend, “No matter how successful women are, we’re constantly seeking permission to run or waiting for someone to ask us to run for leadership.” Tlaib was hesitant to go into politics because she did not want to be confined to a mold of what a typical woman in politics is, but eventually she felt like her district and country needed her to act against injustice. She said that women “tend to wait until we feel needed” to run for leadership positions.
Tlaib noted that the opinions of female politicians are “weighed less” than their male colleagues’ opinions. She said that it takes a man to say the same thing she says for people to acknowledge it as a great idea. She sometimes asks her male colleagues to back her up on issues so they get noticed more. “We are heard differently by people as women…They take you seriously, but they weigh it differently,” Tlaib said.
Women in politics are brushed off as too emotional, but Tlaib believes that women show more empathy. “I think our lens is just so unique as women in politics,” Tlaib said. In response to this, Maddie Longmore, junior-English major at Carlow University, said, “I feel like a more empathetic lens is what you need in politics. I think you need to see the people behind the numbers and spreadsheets. So, if anything, I think that’s a complete advantage.” Tlaib agreed, saying that empathy is missing in most government leadership.
Tlaib is part of the Squad, a group of four progressive women of color that were elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. The group, also including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley, has been criticized by conservative media outlets. Tlaib said, “In the beginning, [‘The Squad’] was kind of seen as a negative because…it was like we were some kind of gang that came in. Some of the terms used [were] aggressive, radical, extreme.”
Despite conservative groups’ attempts to silence them or “other” them, these women began to embrace the branding of the Squad. Tlaib said, “If anything, [these groups] just went ahead and created an extension of the movement work you see on the ground,” such as movements for black lives, making water a human right, housing justice, clean air, and the climate crisis. The Squad fights for all these causes together, and they embrace anyone who wants to join their progressive movement. Tlaib says to those who want to join, “If you believe in equity and justice, you are part of the Squad.”
In addition to these causes, they now have a Squad Victory Fund to raise money together, they do events together, and they work together very closely on bills. Tlaib thinks efforts to discredit or silence the Squad “very much backfired,” especially since so many young activists look up to the Squad members, especially Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her confident and outspoken nature. Tlaib said, “There is something beautiful about us being truly, unapologetically ourselves…I think [people who still disagree with us] respect that so much.”