On Barriers for Women’s Participation in Government

September 2, 2020


On August 27th at the meeting of the Joint Minerals Committee, Jennifer Wilmetti, the current chair of the gubernatorial-appointed Wyoming Council for Women’s Issues, presented a report on the status of women in Wyoming and the work of the WCWI. The co-chair of the committee welcomed her, but then said that the committee would rather look at her than her slides.

ESPC feels it is important to highlight the problematic nature of the objectification of women because there are numerous barriers to entry for women for participation in government. Incidents like this make clear that women are still not valued for their expertise.

Following is ESPC’s response—submitted to the Legislative Services Office, as is protocol—to the inappropriate comments that Senator Anderson made to Ms. Wilmetti as she began her presentation.


August 28, 2020

Dear Director Obrecht,

On behalf of the Equality State Policy Center, I would like to lodge a complaint about a comment made by Senator Jim Anderson to Jennifer Wilmetti at the start of her testimony before the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee on August 27, 2020. Ms. Wilmetti was testifying on behalf of the Wyoming Council for Women. 

Ms. Wilmetti said she would share her screen so the committee members could see a report. Co-chair Anderson said: “We’d rather look at you, but that’s okay if that’s what you want us to look at.”

This comment was not only completely inappropriate, but it was also deeply disrespectful to Ms. Wilmetti. It objectified her and her appearance. This is unacceptable as is. Making matters even worse, it objectified Ms. Wilmetti before a committee comprising about a dozen men and only one woman. It undermined her presentation and testimony. And it was an offensive way for a legislator to treat a member of the public.

We urge legislative leadership to take action, apologize to Ms. Wilmetti, and take steps to help ensure no member of the public will be treated this way again in the future. 

Speaking personally—as a son, a brother, a husband, and a father of a 5-year-old girl—it infuriates me to see a woman treated this way by a member of the Legislature.

Thank you for considering this complaint.

Sincerely,


Chris Merrill
Executive Director


Update: Nick Reynolds of the Casper Star Tribune followed up on the incident and the complaints and published this story on September 2nd:

Wyoming lawmaker criticized after commenting on appearance of Wyoming Women’s Council chairwoman

Jen Simon said that Thursday’s incident underscores a culture of subtle and overt discrimination that often occurs in the male-dominated Wyoming Legislature, where men outnumber women by a rate of nearly seven to one. Just one woman, Rep. Shelly Duncan, R-Torrington, sits on Anderson’s committee, while influential committees like the Joint Appropriations Committee feature no female members.

It’s a factor, Duncan said, that impacted even her own ability to speak out.

“When it first happened, I was shocked,” she said. … “But after the meeting, I was frustrated at myself, because I actually condoned the behavior, and I contributed to the culture by being silent.”

Read the rest of the story at the Casper Star Tribune.

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