What it is Like to be a Queen Bee in the Beehive State

A few days ago, I had a conversation that I couldn’t shake off with my friend from the Bay Area. She and I had met while suffering in our chemistry lab and immediately clicked - we shared the same values, had the same sense of humor, and both exuded moxie. When she told me she was having a hard time making friends here at the University of Utah, I was shocked. She has the most contagious energy and fills my life with endless laughter. How could she of all people be stuck in a friendship rut?

In an instant, I had deja vu. I realized that I’ve been told I have these same qualities, and I had trouble connecting with others growing up. Trust me, I’ve heard it all. I’m too intense. My emotions come on too strong. And, god, how am I that extra? In every social situation, there has been at least one person who has told me that I’m “too much” in some way. There are a ridiculous amount of reasons why I resonate so much with Leslie Knope. This is one of them.

For years, I felt alienated in regards to this situation, and I didn’t know why until the reason struck me like a bus while talking with my troubled friend. "I know exactly what you mean,” I told her. “It’s a Utah thing.”

 

Until that talk, I thought that every intense female in any place was shut down. While that isn’t too far from the truth, the extent varies across regions. My friend who was raised in California throughout her adolescence was accepted as she was, no matter what environment she threw herself into, such as class, swim team, and family gatherings. In Utah, on the other hand, she didn’t experience this same warm welcome, and I’m certain it’s due to the systemic sexism of this state.

My claim isn’t solely based on mere anecdotes. This culture can be measured through the political representation of women for Utah. Below is an infographic the Institute of Women’s Policy Research created regarding this issue, using recent data from 2015.

 

 

With less than a fifth of political representation, issues that matter to women across our state are largely ignored. Even worse, the intersectional representation lacks - there are absolutely no women of color in statewide executive positions and only one to represent Utah nationally in Congress.

These statistics are heartbreaking to see as a young woman living in Utah. Comparing California's representation of women, it makes sense that my friend's intensity was received as positive since people saw women in power with that same intensity all the time. Without women in leadership, the misogynistic mindset is a vicious cycle. If there are no women being represented, no one will see women as powerful. Conversely, if no one sees women as powerful, how will women be represented? Classic case of which came first, the chicken or the egg? Fortunately, the solution to our problem is not quite as enigmatic as birds.

Although it will take time, steps need to be taken in the right direction from the bottom-up; start incorporating women into higher education and executive careers. A large problem in Utah, as told by the researchers at IWPR, is that only 28.9% of women will graduate with at least a bachelor's degree. In this day and age, it's almost essential for every person to get some college education, if they want to be competitive for employment. With more women in education and the workforce, people on a small scale will recognize just what powerhouses women are. From there, the population of Utah will feel comfortable electing a boss of a woman to represent the state.

 

After consoling my friend about the problems she was facing in her new state, we bonded over how grateful we felt to have each other as a safety net. Immediately, all the pain of past difficult relationships was forgotten. If I had her, along with my fierce mother, sister, other close female friends, and my own confidence in my capabilities, I knew anyone who didn't believe in the strength of women could not stop us in the slightest. Just think of all the strong women out there already.

Would you tell women like Michelle Obama that she's "extra" for standing up for herself, and breaking ground across the US? Even if you did, sis, she went to Princeton and Harvard Law, then became a lawyer and First Lady.

Shonda Rhimes, the creator of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, wrote in her book Year of Yes, “If I don't poke my head out of my shell and show people who I am, all anyone will ever think I am is my shell.” If she had remained submissive, you wouldn't be able to binge watch quality medical drama into the wee hours of the morning. Thank you, Shonda. Keep being your intense self.

The very best way to start fixing Utah's misogyny? Support other women and stand up for yourself. Each individual is strong, but we are strongest as a whole.