SHERIDAN — While Sheridan’s first FAB Women’s Conference had to be canceled due to weather, three of the women scheduled to speak at the event sat down with The Sheridan Press earlier this week.
The conference was to be headlined by cartoonist and U.S. State Department Cultural Envoy Liza Donnelly.
Donnelly has been a cartoonist for more than 30 years for The New Yorker magazine, is a columnist for Forbes.com and creates cartoons for Women’s Enews relating to gender issues and women’s rights. She is also the author or editor of 15 books.
“When I started I was in the minority gender wise,” Donnelly said about the male-dominated graphics field. “But you know it is a complicated thing. The work has to be good, it doesn’t really matter what gender you are. But there are some biases, in humor in general, against women not being funny. I didn’t think about it too much. I just wanted to be a cartoonist. It wasn’t until later in life that I looked into why there weren’t more women in my business.”
Donnelly began writing about women’s issues more regularly after attending a cartoonist convention in 2000 as a panelist.
“I looked out and it was packed and it was a sea of men,” Donnelly said. “It was a visual shocker. From there I decided to start looking into why that is.”
Donnelly said while there are certainly many large issues related to women’s rights, such as equal pay for equal work, she said her cartoons and writings often focus on the everyday interactions of men and women and how stereotypes play out in society.
“What I focus on is the little things day-to-day that are still problematic for women, subtle comments from people, cultural problems,” she said. “We tend to look at everything as a binary, there are men and there are women and men are like this and women are like this. If we could just stop making those distinctions and just let everyone be people, I think things would ease up. I think my cartoons might show what is going on by laughing at the stupid things we do and say, men and women.”
Friday’s luncheon speaker was going to be Brigadier General Kathy Wright of the Wyoming Army National Guard. In her position, Wright is responsible for unit readiness and planning related to state and federal missions of the WANG. She is the first woman in Wyoming to hold this position.
“When I joined the Guard 40 years ago as a piccolo player in the band, I never thought I would still be there today,” Wright said. “I never set a goal to have a certain position or be a certain rank. I just always tried to be the best at what I was doing now. By doing that, I think I prepared myself for opportunities as they arose.”
Wright said although she has attained the highest rank in the WANG, it does not mean that the accomplishment signals an endpoint. Rather, she said she has simply opened the way for other women to follow.
“I always say that just because one person has broken through the glass ceiling, it hasn’t made it open to everyone,” she said. “All they have done is shot a little hole through it. They need more to continue to rise. It takes more women to get up there than just one. But having one up there, shows it can be done.”
Wright said she sees family friendly workplaces as one of the biggest challenges women face today. She said she hopes employers will investigate more family-friendly options for both men and women, including offering family leave, tele-working when appropriate and easier access to child care.
“I don’t think anyone should have to sacrifice family for career,” she said.
Wright noted her own career was fully supported by her husband, who passed away one year ago. When an opportunity for advancement in the Guard required the family to move to Cheyenne, she said her husband encouraged her, saying that her chances of additional advances in her career were higher than his own.
“I thank his mother for that,” she said. “I think she had a lot to do with sensitizing him to women.”
Wright plans to retire in December, but expects to stay busy, including spending more time with her three sons.
Saturday’s luncheon speaker was set to be Montana resident Sarah Calhoun, owner and founder of the women’s clothing company Red Ants Pants.
After working in several outdoor jobs and not finding durable workwear that fit women specifically, she decided to create her own.
The company began in 2006 and has now expanded to include an annual music festival and a Red Ants Pants nonprofit organization.
Calhoun said that while she has not encountered many gender-related challenges during the evolution of her business, she said there are definitely issues out there. She said there are more and more opportunities for women to get help starting a business or entering a traditionally male-dominated field and encouraged women to seek out those opportunities.
“I think it’s going to be hard but we’ve been really lucky to have a lot of strong female leaders pave the way before us,” she said. “There are now a lot of support systems, nonprofits and organizations that bring together people that are experiencing challenges.”
“It’s been a pretty emotional response from a lot of gals, a lot of cheering,” she continued, about the response she has seen from other women about her business. “You can imagine working in welding or as an electrician or many things that gals do in the technical trades, and you are using safety equipment like helmets, gloves, boots, fire retardant clothing and is not fitting well and not functional. So all of sudden, when there are a pair of pants that fit and someone ‘gets it,’ it goes a long way.”