When I arrived at the campaign office the very first day of my internship the last thing on my mind was how my gender would affect my experience. However, within thirty minutes of arriving it suddenly became my most pressing concern. After being quickly trained how to canvass, we were each told to pick up a packet and then we would be driven to our turfs. Immediately I realized that they expected me, a 19 year old female, to canvass by myself in an unknown neighborhood. As I sat in the car watching as the driver dropped off each of the other four girls in their respective turfs, I grew more concerned. Even though it was only 3:30 in the afternoon it would get dark soon. Luckily, the driver seemed to realize this and, since there were only two of us left, told the other girl and I that we could just canvass together. Both relieved, we were dropped off and for the next hour knocked on strangers’ doors.
I soon understood that my gender would limit my ability to be an efficient fellow on a campaign. The other female fellows on the campaign agreed that we wouldn’t canvass alone. However, this makes it difficult for us to complete our canvassing quotas each week. We have to individually knock on 105 doors per week. These are split into three packets of thirty-five doors each. Every packet takes approximately an hour and a half to do, depending on the neighborhood, how many people answer, and the range of the turf. For instance, in one neighborhood I canvassed, the houses were a quarter mile apart which meant that it took five hours to complete two packets. However, another neighborhood was composed mostly of apartment buildings which enabled my canvassing partner and I to get through two packets in just under three hours. Unfortunately, even though every pair knocks on each door together, because we are technically required to knock on 105 doors individually, we can only count half of the doors we knock on each shift for our own quota. Thus, we have to canvass twice the required amount of doors per week.
Aggravatingly, I am aware that at times I play into my gender role while canvassing. When a person answers a door I often slip into a character of sweet domesticity or, as one female canvassing partner described it, the stereotypical manic pixie dream girl. Usually I canvass with another female, and we both turn into manic pixie dream girls and use our “perky voices.” We both contribute to each conversation, often splitting the introduction and the questions. However, I’ve noticed that the few times I’ve gone canvassing with a male partner, I turn into the passive pretty face. I don’t talk, I am there merely to reassure voters that my male partner is not a threat. He speaks, I smile, we leave. Neither of us will have decided to do this, it just happens.
It upsets me that in today’s society, as a woman, I still feel uncomfortable enough walking around a city in broad daylight by myself that I am forced to do twice the amount of work my male counterparts are required to do. There is a part of me that just wants to go out by myself and get the job done more efficiently. But then I have to walk into an apartment building with broken windows or walk by a house with a man staring at me from the front door, and I’m glad I have someone with me. However, I don’t find it acceptable that female fellows have to work twice as hard to fulfill their quotas or that because of the extra time spent canvassing female fellows have to work overtime to finish their phone bank quotas and other duties. Although I’ll continue to canvass with a partner, I hope that one day I will not feel disadvantaged because of my gender.
-- Genevieve Akins is a St. Olaf sophomore from Topeka, KS., majoring in Political Science with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies. She is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the presidential election.