Former Republican Congresswoman Nan Sutter Hayworth ’81, Former Democratic Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies, and 2016 Democratic Congressional candidate and 2012 alumni class president Lindy Li ’12 participated in a panel discussion about navigating a career in politics as a woman.
Hayworth majored in biology at the University and went on to graduate from Cornell University Medical College and practice as an ophthalmologist.
“This is the first time I’ve set foot in [the Whig-Cliosophic Society Building],” she said, adding that she had not pursued a political career until her husband suggested to her in 2010 that she run for Congress. She was first elected to represent New York’s 19th district.
“Going into the legislative process as a medical professional is quite different from if you have life experience with the law,” she said. She added that studying for medical school taught her how to learn policy details quickly.
“I never felt intimidated in my entire life either by working or competing with men,” Hayworth said. “I never felt like my gender was a hindrance. It was honestly something of a help, because women don’t run as frequently as men.”
“I’ve been very fortunate, I’m not saying that to be glib,” she added. “I’m standing on the shoulders of people like my mother, who was chased around her desk by an employer and quit that day, because that’s the kind of woman she is.”
Hayworth stated that she doesn’t take gender into account when considering candidates.
“I don’t want to expiate being a woman, if you know what I mean,” Hayworth said. “I don’t assign traits based on gender. I avoid the prerogative aspects of that.”
“I don’t think you should vote for a woman because she’s a woman, I think you should vote for the best candidate,” Margolies added.
“Women say ‘I don’t know enough about this,’ men say they’ll surround themselves with people who do know,” she said. “I think it is very hard for women, it really is. You know, you feel the misogyny.”
At twenty-five years old, Li has already run for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 6th district, although she withdrew from the race after an opponent sued. She is currently planning another Congressional campaign. When an audience member asked about finding confidence, Li referenced her 2012 commencement speech. It was raining heavily and her speech had been cut from the program so that the keynote speaker, Steve Carrell, could speak earlier.
“Steve Carrell said to me, ‘You’re on live TV, if you go out there, they can’t pull you back.’ I gave my entire speech and no one could do a thing about it.”
“It was one of the most amazing moments of my life. Before that day, I was 99% sure I was running for Congress. That day, I found that final 1%.”
Li added that she credits the University for introducing her to politics.
“[The University] gave me everything I had,” she said. “I think I’d be nowhere without this amazing institution, our community, our loving friends who became family.”
Li was elected class president her freshman year and served for four years.
“I knocked on a thousand doors at the beginning of my first year,” she said.
Margolies spoke further about the difficulties of navigating the political world. When she was elected to the House of Representatives in 1993, Pennsylvania’s 13th District became the most Republican-leaning district to elect a Democrat in the nation.
“I used to say to my mom, and I don’t remember saying this, that I wanted to make a difference. And I remember saying I wanted to run away and join the circus,” she said. “I did both in ’92.”
Both Hayworth and Margolies also spoke about the difficulty of finding a balance between career and home life.
“When you run for office, it’s life-consuming,” Hayworth, who has two children, said. “I was fortunate, I couldn’t have done it at any earlier time in my life. It would have been difficult to retain any sort of relationship with my children.”
“I think you can do it all, but you can’t do it all with the same intensity at the same time,” Margolies said.
“It’s a different perspective than the typical,” Christian Schmidt ’20 said. “It was interesting to see [Hayworth] talk about her perspective as a woman and a conservative.”
“I came because we don’t often to get to meet past and current politicians,” Robert Freeman ’20 said. “I’m planning to ask about lobbying since I’m considering a venture involving lobbying.”
“I think this event was very relevant after the election,” Whig-Clio President Allison Berger ‘18, who organized the event, said. “So many different backgrounds were represented. Each woman had a different perspective, it showed that there are so many ways to enter politics.”
Berger is a member of The Daily Princetonian’s Editorial Board.
The panel, sponsored by the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, was titled “Women in Congress” and took place at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6 in the Whig Hall Senate Chamber.