Sitting down with Jersey City At-Large Councilwoman Joyce Watterman was more than a breath of fresh air – it was a master class in women kicking ass. I reached out to her yesterday when I recognized her as the only woman in a sea of male councilmen and community & faith leaders.
My question to Councilwoman Watterman: How do you do it? What advice do you have?
“When you’re a woman and you’re dealing with male society, they sometimes look at us as if we’re not as important, or significant enough. You have to make the decision that you’re going to include yourself. You have to take the initiative. If you don’t, no one’s going to do it for you.
A lot of times when I go into a meeting, I am the only woman at the table. I’m the only one to represent women. And our opinions matter.
It’s not even that they’re trying to exclude us – they just don’t see it. But you have to make them see it. It’s our job.”
“There are ways to get included – you have to make yourself visible, physically. You have to move your body to a place where you can be seen.
It can take a while to get comfortable. Some of the characteristics I have here at the city council do not make me feel the most comfortable, but I’m glad to be a woman, to be perfectly honest.
Sometimes you hear stuff like “You gotta dress this way,” or “Speak this way,” – so you look more like or act more like a man – but I don’t buy into that. It’s offensive. I am who I am. That’s important to me.”
“I made the decision to be bold coming into this environment. If I don’t, they’ll eat me up. Politics is dominated by males.
It was hard to do. Women are nurturers, we’re not just coming out all bold like they do. We’re more gentle, that aggressive boldness just isn’t in our nature. That’s something you have to learn to do. You have to train yourself to be something that you’re not.”
Sometimes you hit and miss.
“That’s the learning curve. I welcome it. When I hit and miss, I don’t beat myself up. Some days you get tired. That day’s just not a good day. Everyone is entitled to a dumb day. You’re human too.
I wasn’t intending on coming into politics. I’m a pastor at a church in this city. When the mayor ran, he asked me. The truth is that I want to help people.”
“There’s only so much you can do as a pastor. How can you really help with housing? How can you help people get jobs? I can train them – we can do a resume class – but there’s a limit. In the city council I can help people get to the next level.
When you want to make systemic change, you have to go to policy and you must have patience. The process can take a long time. It was built before I got here – and it will be here after me. Trying to change processes takes time. You have to have minds at the table. You have to have different people to make sure you did your due diligence so that when the laws change, it helps everyone.
It’s a process. It’s not as fast as I thought it would be. You can’t give up on it.”
Find & use your power.
“Women have to start speaking up – coming out of the closets, out of the houses, out of the daycares. We have to come out and say what we want and what we need. We have more voting power than men, we just don’t realize it.
We’re fortunate if we can bear it. It’s not easy to be bold. Not every woman can take it – not every women can take what gets dished out. And I don’t hold it against her if she can’t. I’m fighting for her granddaughter, for her daughter, and for her. Our fight to have a seat at the table makes life better for the next generation.
You have to tap into who you are and who you want to be. Ghandi told us to, ‘Become the change you want to see in the world.'”
Don’t take it personally.
“If you’re getting involved, you’re paving the way for someone else. If the purpose is bigger than you are, you learn to take the hits. You begin to see it’s really not about you. You don’t take it personally.
You have to get to that point or you’ll get wounded. And you can’t get wounded. Even in this job I don’t take it personal. It’s bigger than me. I just continue to do what I can do. It’s really for someone else.
When it’s not about you, you can begin to venture out.”
(Note: At this point, I asked her about the racial and socioeconomic divides that threaten our unity as women.)
There’s a solution. Invite. We have to invite each other.
“I don’t fault the women who live in the suburbs, or the women in the urban areas. But we have to learn to switch places. We have to see how each other lives. You don’t know the other world until you invite it into your world. Invite each other to different events.
We can’t talk about the problem because then we’re just yessing each other. Experience is always a good teacher. We have tried to talk, but we have not invited.”
It’s ok to be uncomfortable.
“Going to someone’s home, or to their events shows us how we live. We all have issues and concerns. We have to invite each other in.
Much of life is about being uncomfortable to be comfortable. You have to get out of your comfort zone. I’m not comfortable every place I go. But when a person sees me there, they know I’m here and I’m trying to understand. I want to feel what she feels, I want to understand it.
Life is a learning process. It’s not a perfect picture. Because we’re not perfect people. This is life. It’s ok if I don’t do it right.
I get to see the whole city. I’m absolutely amazed. We all have the same issue – regardless of where we live or what culture we’ve been raised in.”
“When I attend events or go places I’m unfamiliar with, I ask what to wear. I’m not here to offend – you just have to ask. Realize if they invite you, you’re coming as their guest. And then women start coming together. That’s why we invite each other in.
Let’s open our hearts to one another. Let’s don’t judge each other. Let’s embrace each others backgrounds so we can learn to embrace each other. We’ve all been raised in a culture, and that culture sticks with us.
From that point we can grow as women. We are the most powerful force on this earth. Its just learning how to use that power.”