by Sean Macken
USM Gulf Park continued their 2019 Cultural Arts Series with a panel discussion focused on “Women in Mississippi Politics.” The college brought three distinguished local women who all served in local and state politics. All three provided insight and at times satirically funny anecdotes on the challenges they faced when service in public office.
Former Mississippi Representative Diane Peranich had the distinction of being the first women to represent the Gulf Coast in the state legislature. Peranich represented District 121 from 1988 to 2019; Aneice Lidell was the first female mayor of Moss Point from 2009 to 2013 and also served as the president of the Mississippi Conference of Black Mayors and Brenda Simkins rounded out the panel. Simkins served as councilwoman-at-large for the City of Pascagoula from 2013 to 2017.
Simkins remains active in the nonprofit community on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Dr. Katie James, assistant professor of sociology and interdisciplinary studies and associate director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at USM Gulf Park, moderated the panel discussion.
All three women spoke from the heart when recounting their stories and why they ran for public office. Each discussed the scene on the issues, which seemed to stack the deck against females winning and being successful in public office. Additonally, addressing what qualities and strategies were necessary for a woman to succeed in politics at all levels of the State.
Peranich explained the challenges of simply being one of 7 women representatives out of a legislative chamber of 122 seats and attempting to address issues of interest to her constituents but also women in the state.
This included a lack of a woman’s restroom at the Capital in Jackson. Representative Peranich told that during her career the critical skill was to stand watch and to be prepared. Understand the process and zero in on how decisions are made and inject ones self into that process.
The ultimate diversion was the “good old boy network”, according to Peranich, who worked to stack the deck against those women serving by changing when discussions were held from the morning to after a day’s session would end.
Members would retire to bars or other venues to discuss legislation over drinks fully knowing the female legislators would need to attend to family issues back home.
Simkins revealed a lack of creating networks of women to build a consensus of shared interests and concerns was a large problem. She concurred on many occasions finding women in her district and across the state to resist supporting interests shared by most women.
This lack of consensus and lack of a desire to work together to build a caucus to take on the male majority has held back the numbers of women at all levels of Mississippi political bodies, according to all the panel.
Similarly, the two other panelists supported Liddell’s observation that women have to work harder when serving in the public arena.
In fact, this can be found in the corporate world as well. Liddell noted that women have to be better prepared then male counterparts when running and serving in public office.
When asked what qualities women bring to public service, all three panelists agreed to see issues with a different lens. Each panelist indicates an attempt to be more empathetic and look at the depth of an issue then trying to simply check a box.
All three conveyed to work on finding a support system and a champion whether a spouse or partner or a mentor. Confidence and self worth are also critical.
Given the audience remained strong after 90 minutes of discussion demonstrated the interest in the roles women play in the State. C
This certainly cemented the event in the theme for this year’s Cultural Art Series of “Representing the Experiences of Women, from the English Renaissance to Right Now.”