Kansas Legislature the ‘last frontier’ work environment, women legislators tell crowd

Rep. Melissa Rooker (L) listens to Rep. Stephanie Clayton at a session on women legislators this morning at the Corinth Library.
Rep. Melissa Rooker (L) listens to Rep. Stephanie Clayton at a session on women legislators this morning at the Corinth Library.

It’s Women’s Equality Week and three women who are Kansas legislators this morning moved slightly off policy issues to talk about personal issues, including what they called the “last frontier” in hostile work environments for women: the Kansas Legislature.

“It’s like being stuck in Mad Men but the clothes are not really as nice,” Rep. Stephanie Clayton said, describing how female staffers dressed (less) compared to female legislators. She said it was one of the last hostile work environments left.

Rep. Melissa Rooker told of attending a meeting not long after she was elected and a male colleague by way of introduction asked, “who do you belong to?” She replied, “I belong to the people of the 25th District.” At briefing on the dress code for new legislators, Rooker said, only men’s dress was discussed and Clayton had to ask, “What should we wear?” No dress code existed for women so they decided to wear jackets – like the men are required to do – when speaking on the floor.

Clayton and Rooker were joined by Sen. Pat Pettey at a forum with women legislators this morning at the Corinth Library. A standing room crowd joined the discussion. All three of the legislators agreed that the legislature places “a higher burden on women of being prepared.”

Rooker told the group that she had recently lost her mother who was confronted with dementia for 10 years. She said her mother’s directions were ignored as her health deteriorated. “The outcomes of our system are geared toward (saving lives) at all costs,” she said. An initiative to raise the status of patient directives – TPOPP – is a project Rooker is backing. “To honor her memory, this will be a mission of mine.”

Clayton focused some of her remarks on the safety net that protects women and families. “Once you become a parent,” Clayton said, “you are one disaster away from poverty.” She talked about women staying in abusive relationships to make sure their child has a home and food. “(It’s a) “very thin veneer when a family crumbles,” she said. Preschool and all-day kindergarten are important for families, she said.

Pettey, who represents Merriam, also talked about the rising level of free and reduced lunch in area schools and about the need for funding for all-day kindergarten.